Character Matters: Principles for Raising, Becoming, and Choosing Responsible and Effective Leaders

By B. Kim Barnes
Reprinted from LinkedIn, January 2, 2016

As we enter another U.S. presidential election year, we have a chance to think about what’s important to us as we choose a new leader. I have been reflecting on the ethical and behavioral qualities the candidates are displaying and how they learned them. And related to that, I think about how are we raising our children to be the political, civic, and organizational leaders and citizens that we will need in an increasingly complex world.

My mother, Lorraine Shalett Shapiro, was loved, admired, and deeply respected by her friends, co-workers, and the patients she worked with at a Kaiser Hospital in Southern California. Though not in a formal leadership role, she influenced the people around her to be stronger, kinder, more honest and more self-confident. And so she did with her family. After her death some years ago, I took time to consider what she taught all of us and identified a set of character-building principles that she represented – with a light touch most of the time – and called them “Lorraine’s Laws.”

Here they are, my New Year’s gift to leaders, parents, and especially to those who believe we ought to elect them to our country’s highest office:

  • Treat everyone with kindness and respect.
  • Don’t cry over spilled milk. Acknowledge mistakes and failures; then move on.
  • Contribute in a positive way to your community. Do what needs to be done without looking for an immediate payback.
  • Avoid defensiveness. Accept responsibility for what you have chosen to do, even if it didn’t turn out as you hoped or expected. Ask for and listen to feedback and learn from it, especially if it’s critical.
  • Avoid self-righteousness and judgment. Be self-critical; don’t let yourself get away with getting “too big for your boots.” (I should mention here that my mother was born in Minnesota- though not Scandinavian, she resonated with many of the values that they brought to this country.)
  • Avoid self-dramatization and self-importance; don’t pout and don’t whine.
  • Use both your mind and your heart in making decisions. Think about the impact of your decisions on others.
  • Learn all the time. Keep an open mind; always listen to new ideas and information even if it conflicts with what you think you already know for sure.
  • Forgive those who have wronged you.
  • Forgive yourself for the wrongs you have done in the past once you have done everything you can to repair the damage.
  • Love and appreciate your family and provide whatever support is needed for one another to be successful.
  • Look for and expect the best from people (family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc.) – pass on compliments and positive feedback; let people know what they are doing right. Avoid gossip and negative comments about people.
  • Be proud of your heritage; respect and show interest in the heritage of others.
  • Use your talents; they are your gifts to the world.
  • Stand up and speak out for what you believe in even though you know your opinion may be unpopular.
  • If you have an issue with someone, talk it out. Don’t hold on to resentments, especially within the family or team.
  • Be interested in what others have to offer, regardless of their age, position, occupation, education, ethnic background, etc. Seek a diversity of opinion; value and seek to understand people who are different from you.
  • Bring your whole self to your work, whatever it is. Demonstrate your love and commitment to those whom you touch in your work every day.
  • Don’t come down to the level of people who treat you rudely or unfairly. Find a way to rise to the occasion and keep your dignity.
  • Enjoy your life; it is a blessing.

As I think about who to choose for elective office, who to hire in leadership roles, and what I need to do better in my own life, these principles still resonate deeply. Character matters.

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