Last Updated 23 | 03 | 2014 at 11:43

Business & Technology

Breathing life force into the workplace: the essence of character

Article By:
Christopher Bezzina









According to the German sociologist Georg Simmel “society is relations – society exists whenever and wherever individuals enter into reciprocal action. These reciprocal acts are derived from determined impulses or intentions, goals.” Yet, social life, relationships are often imposed not desired; organised not sought.  It is within this context that what follows is central to developing and sustaining a culture of networking and network learning. Whilst they are presented separately they are intertwined and interdependent.

Most of us enjoy being challenged, enjoy being around inspirational people, people who enjoy life and give of their best. The key question is what are we doing to notice the people around us, to nurture the people around us? Do we move people, ignite their passion, and inspire them to be the best that they can be?

We can express passion and enthusiasm in our daily lives by being with people and for them. We need to take the time to invest in those we work with. When leaders are so overwhelmed by the tasks at hand they often fail to appreciate and invest in their people. For this we need to introduce ‘uninterrupted time’ for the people to grow together. Smart leaders put the interests of their team members ahead of their own. As Gene Wilkes observed: “Team leaders genuinely believe that they do not have all the answers so they do not insist on providing them. They believe they do not need to make all key decisions so they do not do so. They believe they cannot succeed without the combined contributions of all the other members of the team to a common end so they avoid any action that might constrain inputs or intimidate anyone on the team. Ego is not their predominant concern.”

Strong employee relations is the backbone to successful organisations. For any initiative to succeed team members must believe in it and be willing to contribute. The strengths of a good leader include empowering others, listening to others and
sharing ideas.

Being genuine ... authentic

We often have to obey, and not express opinions that defy authority. This has led to the creation of contexts in which people end up ‘doing the job’, not truly feeling engaged.

One's life however does influence that of others. We should never underestimate the effect that genuineness has on our coworkers and colleagues. A life of integrity stands out in a context which thrives on hypocrisy. An ethical leader demonstrates integrity and character by his/her actions and words. An important principle to follow is to do what is right, even when no one else is looking. A leadership corollary is to create an environment through your words and actions where others are motivated to do right as well.

Throughout history, those known for character and integrity were the most admired and influential. Plato said, ‘He who would be blessed and happy should first be a partner of truth, then he can be trusted.’ If we want to inspire confidence and respect in those we work with and come in contact with we need to be genuine.

Evans (2007) argues that “transformation begins with trust. Trust is the essential link between leader and led, vital to people’s job satisfaction and loyalty, vital to followership.” (p. 135) Yet, trust is as fragile as it is precious. Maybe, this is why there is so much dissatisfaction in a lot of quarters.

Treating everyone with respect

A genuine and authentic person treats others with respect. How different we feel when we know that the people around us believe in us as individuals! They truly care about our welfare, our needs. The adage is true: people do not care what you think until they know that you care. How do we respond to people’s needs and requests? Many an example can be sighted of how we can impact other people’s feelings both positively or negatively through the way we express respect to them and by the way we treat them. It is essential to take time out on a regular basis to reflect on our work practices, on how we spend our time with others, what effects our words and actions (or lack of them!); the impact our decisions have on others (and on oneself).

Being humble … willing to serve

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “A great man is always willing to be little.” Humility is a quality of character, but it is much more. Although it is a Christ-like virtue, humility is seldom understood or admired. Today many models of leadership consider it strange for the person at the top to show humility. Bending the knee to help others, to admit weakness, to just talk to everyone is considered making yourself vulnerable to those who might take advantage of you.

This is where our educational system may have over the years failed us. Our system has aimed at providing students with content knowledge, at preparing a percentage of students to learn how to regurgitate things at exam time. Our focus has not been on developing the skills to build character and instill virtue. For years employers in all sectors have been calling for the need to develop active citizens, who are innovative, creative, willing to work in teams, entrepreneurial, loyal and punctual. It is essential that a holistic approach is adopted that, whilst not disregarding such traits and values, prizes those values directed at forming character, shaping attitudes, producing thoughtful, virtuous people.

A potential danger of being a leader is that we can begin to think that we have all the answers to everyone’s problems. Those who do think like this want followers who are passive recipients. Such people develop a large ego which often leads to arrogance.

Smart leaders put the interests of their team members ahead of their own.

We should never underestimate the effect that genuineness has on our coworkers and colleagues


Throughout history, those known for character and integrity were the most admired and influential.


Leadership no longer refers only to titular or officially designated leaders, but can be distributed within the organisation.


The ability to lead is dependent on others and the relationships or networks leaders cultivate.


A leader’s challenge is to get all the moving parts working together while respecting individual and group differences and without imposing uniformity on everyone.

The critical question is how do you want to relate to others? Is humility going to be something you appreciate in others and not emulate? Or is it going to be a way of life, something to be cherished in all and practiced every day?

It is here that Maxwell’s definition of leadership as influence takes on added meaning, as it implies the ability to get followers (1993: 2). One’s success is determined by the quality of the followership that emerges. Sergiovanni concludes that “when moral authority drives leadership practice, the principal is at the same time a leader of leaders, follower of ideas, minister of values, and servant to the followership” (2006: 19). Definitely food for thought, a lesson in humility at best.

Showing gratitude

Linked to this is the importance of expressing gratitude. The key issue here is how far does gratitude permeate the climate within the

organisation we form part of? How is gratitude manifested on a day-to-day basis as people address the tasks at hand. It is easy to identify how staff members express gratitude in the way they talk to colleagues, the way ideas are shared and what in the end influences practice. Where people matter, they belong and will contribute more to the achievement of goals; to thank people for little accomplishments.  is acknowledging that all these things count; that they matter in creating the appropriate environment which is conducive to growth and development.

Creating teamwork and capacity building

Today's definition of leadership implies encouraging and redistributing responsibilities, hence the importance of capacity building. Capacity building can be described as “the collective competency of the organization as an entity to bring about effective change” (Harvey, 2003: 21). This implies that organisations need to adopt a fully collaborative culture, which draws upon the full range of professional skills and expertise to be found among the members.


A leader’s challenge is to get all the moving parts working together while respecting individual and group differences and without imposing uniformity on everyone. Leaders need to support and create different growth options which will help nurture a strong work ethic. As Omotani points out, “Out-of-the-box leaders … support community conversations” (2007: 48).

The model of leadership that will make a difference in the 21st century is one that focuses on character, on formation, on connections. The critical shift that is needed is one where it is who you are that counts; it is more what you do and say that influences and determines what takes place. So, yet there is hope. When Anthony Attard claimed that “ethics comes before profit” (The Executive, Issue 37, p.61, December 2011) one appreciates that there are genuine people out there who are truly concerned and focused on commitment, encouragement, on dialogue, service and opportunity.

As Maxwell points out, “… good character is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece - by thought, choice, courage and determination. This will only be accomplished with a disciplined lifestyle.” (1993: 178) This is the leadership which must take us forward, this is the leadership our country needs and deserves.

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