The importance of character in today’s leaders

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Jonathan Trampel
  • 92nd Maintenance Group Superintendent
I've observed many leaders throughout my 26-year career -- some good and some not so good. The good leaders had character, the others didn't.

Character encompasses the total features and traits that form the individual nature of a person. We don't get to choose our parents or the circumstances behind our birth or upbringing, but we do get to choose our character.

In fact, we create it every time we make choices; cop out or dig out of a hard situation, bend the truth or stand under the weight of it, take the easy money or pay the price. As you live your life, you are creating your character. Followers do not trust and will not follow leaders whose character is flawed. How a leader deals with the circumstances of life tells you many things about that person's character. Crisis doesn't necessarily make character, but it certainly reveals it.

Adversity is a crossroad that makes a person choose a path. Every time you choose the correct path, you become stronger, even if that choice isn't the easy one. The development of character is at the heart of our development -- not just as leaders, but as human beings. Anyone can say they have integrity, but action is the real indicator of character. Your character determines who you are, what you see and what you do. That is why you can never separate a leader's character from his actions.

In the book, "The 21 Indispensible Qualities of a Leader" by John C. Maxwell tells the story of Bill Lear, the founder of Lear Jet. Bill Lear was also an inventor, aviator and business leader who held more than 150 patents to include the automatic pilot, car radio and 8-track tapes.

In the 1950s he saw the potential for a small corporate jet. In 1963, his first jet made its first flight and in 1964 he delivered his first production jet to a client. His success was immediate and he sold several aircraft to customers around the world. But he soon learned that two of his jets had recently crashed under mysterious circumstances. At that time he had already sold 55 jets and he immediately sent word to ground them all until he and his team could determine the cause. The thought that more lives could be lost was more important to him than the negative publicity that taking action might generate in the media. Lear and his team discovered the cause and he flew a jet to duplicate the malfunction almost costing him his life. He then developed a new part to correct the problem and fitted all 55 jets, eliminating the danger.

Lear's decision cost him a lot of money and planted seeds of doubt in potential customer minds, but he never regretted it for one minute. He was willing to risk his success, his fortune and even his life to discover and fix the problem -- but not his integrity, and that defines his character.

Character defines who you are. Remember, you define your character whenever you make a decision.

Lear showed his character by grounding all of the jets until he could find the fix. If you develop the leadership quality of character you will become the leader that the Air Force is looking for from all Airmen.