Why does character matter?

When it comes to me, I much appreciate the ability to work in a circle of like-minded people for the last three years, where every conversation, discussion, training session can be began with talking about business values. And recently more and more business owners and top managers came to understanding that values are not “empty philosophy”. However, it should be noted that there is still a large number of Ukrainians who build their business “just for profit”, without speculating and sometimes even not knowing what impact their organizations have or may have on the market, society, state. Thus, values are still underestimated, although included in the trend.

Situation in state administration bodies and state-owned companies is even more complicated. There is no even a hint on organizational values and the whole discourse is reduced to the ineffective struggle of reformers with barriers. At best, such barriers to efficiency can be commitment to process rather than to the outcome; and at worst – corruption and other dysfunctions destroying our state from the inside. The post-Soviet bureaucratic culture can resist changes very well, which was proved by multiple statements of resignation of new generation reformers, who came after the Maidan.

The question of culture can not be considered separately from leadership phenomenon, since they are interconnected – leaders create culture, and culture creates leaders. Therefore, if we are talking about new society, we must talk about new culture based on ethical principles. Accordingly, in my opinion, we, Ukrainians, have not only “ripened” for the concept of “moral and ethical leadership” but taking into account the situation our country faces, we need such leadership, and already “against the clock”. The notion of moral and ethical leadership can not be considered without affecting the issue of values, the leader’s character and commitment. After all, widely covered leadership competencies are important in shaping a leader, but fail to explain certain critical moments. For instance, why people going to parliament or ministry with good intentions will eventually resemble the system, while there are those who manage not to lose their identity? Why some highly-skilled managers governing billion-dollar corporations are inclined to “close their eyes” to terrible behavior of certain high performance supervisors in relation to their subordinates, while others are unable to tolerate this?

Canadian researchers (Mary Crossan, Gerard Seijts, Jeffrey Gandz, Carol Stephenson) realized an interesting project – Leadership on trial, analyzing leadership phenomenon influence on financial and economic crisis of 2007-2009. As a result of 9 months of work, more than 300 senior executives from business, public sector and non-profit organizations from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong have been interviewed. As the researchers say, they were only interested in one question – would “better leadership” change the situation? The answer was decisive – yes. It is interesting that the researchers focused on the leader’s character and not on his/ her competencies.
The question arises – does leader character really matter? Researchers and practitioners from North America agree this is true. In this context, important is the survey conducted prior to the Leadership Character conference at Ivey Business School, Ihnatowycz Center for Leadership, we were able to participate in. It indicates that one of the major barriers to implementation of character development methods is lack of time. This is surprising since we always find time for things really important to us. Despite declaration of the leader character importance, the organizations continue addressing more urgent issues, from their point of view, related to the organizations’ operational activities.

So, one of the insights during the conference, or a sort of another reminder, was what Jeffrey Gandz calls “say – do gap”. That is the existence of a gap between what the leaders declare and how they actually act. And this applies to such developed countries as Canada and the United States. My personal experience, as a citizen of Ukraine, tells me that this gap may be significant enough if related to some Ukrainian leaders. One way to changes in our society is to overcome them.

There is an urgent question for us, Ukrainians, – what traits present Ukrainian leaders must possess: to cope with the challenges faced by them, to resist a system that is trying to prevent changes, to make life better for us, our children and grandchildren in our country. One of the tasks of UCU Center for Leadership will be to study this issue.