The origins of CharacterScope – Ancient wisdom for a modern world

The origins of CharacterScope – Ancient wisdom for a modern world

From ancient Athens

In a sun-baked, dusty square under the shade of an olive tree an older man sits surrounded by impatient younger men. He has been asked by the Athenian elders to prepare these young men to be good leaders, the future leaders of Athens. Men who would shape their world in a way that we still experience today, 2,500 years later.

What was it he taught them? Was it how to be great warriors? The ideal battle strategy? How to create civic buildings that would last for millenia? How to trade with the other great empires on their shores?

In truth, Aristotle taught them the importance of developing their character: their courage, resilience, stamina; their judgement, compassion, perspective; their creativity. He taught them that these character strengths were not simple behaviours or skills that they could pick up in a day or two of study, like Pythagoras’s theorems. Rather, they required sustained focus, steadily building habits. If they were easy to develop, everyone would possess them. But developing strengths of character was a prize worth working for, and what future generations would truly see as remarkable would be the way their character led them to achieve things future generations would admire and value. Hide

To our modern world

Fast forward to the noise, traffic, crush and pace of modern London.

What we at CharacterScope are seeking to do is to bring insights from this ancient world to a new generation, one for whom, literally, the future of the world hangs in the balance. It is theirs to shape in a more characterful, peaceful and sustainable way, but to do this will require all of the same character strengths that were so familiar to Aristotle.

In place of a dusty, sun-baked town square we have technology that allows access for everyone and from anywhere. And in place of a single teacher, we have the collective wisdom of a team of coaches, psychologists, teachers and leaders all dedicated to the task of making character relevant to today’s world and the future generation of leaders. And rather than focus on a select few men, we fully understand that tomorrow’s world is about tapping into and celebrating everyone’s talents, whatever their age, gender or identity. Hide

Character, leadership and teams

CharacterScope is the result of 25 years of sustained research, data science and learning about what leadership really is and how everyone can develop their own leadership. This research has uncovered the core role that character development plays in creating environments in which people learn and grow together, places where people work productively and purposefully, shaping our world rather than simply reacting to apparently unstoppable forces. It has revealed that character development can be just as hard as it was for the ancient Greeks, but that new digital technology, a world of daily bite-sized learning, prompts and nudges can smooth the path that otherwise is open only to the privileged few.

We hope you find your journey through the world of CharacterScope stimulating, challenging and a continuing source of growth.

Snippet – No.13: Prudence

Snippet – No.13: Prudence

I cycled 203km a few days ago as a way of marking the Summer solstice, the furthest I’ve ever cycled. Days had been merging into one and I wanted something to look back on in future years, a kind of ‘before the ride’ and ‘after the ride’, a way of getting some personal perspective on our current world.

My ride took me through the Cotswolds – Malmesbury, Tetbury and up towards Cheltenham – through ancient landscape, sometimes on arrow-straight Roman roads, often on rolling, meandering lanes. We passed Neolithic standing stones, the site of a 3rd Century Roman villa, a 12th Century Abbey, villages that trace their identity over a thousand and more years.

There’s so much that’s wrong with our current world and ways of living on the Earth, so many pressing problems to fix. Yet as these crowd around us, it can be hard to feel there could be a far future, of people quietly enjoying the legacy of our generation’s time on this planet. It can be hard to feel it is even worth creating a vision of a better future.

Mark Loftus
Founder & CEO CharacterScope

Snippet, Reflect, Fix

Traditionally, prudence is seen as the mother of the virtues, the means by which we judge between virtuous and vicious acts. More recently it’s become synonymous with cautiousness and risk-aversion, out of kilter with our collective self-image as fast-moving and bold. In truth prudence is really about acting now in ways that our future selves and generations will thank us for.

What will your self in 2 years’ time thank you for what you are doing now? And how about in 20 years’ time? And what legacy from this time would you like our inheritors to value in 200 years’ time?

When you find yourself caught in the urgency to keep up with the latest tweets, the latest stories, the latest technology, try to picture what people in the unthinkably far future might make of our current preoccupations… take a moment to breathe… and then act.

7 Insights on Good Leadership

7 Insights on Good Leadership

When we and others around us lead well, life is better: we are more productive, more engaged, more open to learning, more fulfilled. But what is it that is happening? What is our understanding of leadership?

Here are CharacterScope’s 7 Insights on what good leadership is, distilled from decades of coaching and teaching leaders and helping organisations in creating leadership cultures:

  1. First, what it’s not. Leadership is not a role (‘the Leader’), something reserved for a few, but a set of activities that everyone can play their part in. 

  2. Second, leadership involves doing things that help create the system (connections of individuals, relationships and groups) in which people can work productively together and flourish personally as they work.

  3. Third, the following hallmarks will help you know whether your ecosystem is being collectively well led (thanks to Prof J Richard Hackman at Harvard University for these):
    • the individuals, relationships and teams become more capable over time
    • the team and stakeholders around them take satisfaction with what they produce (their work-output is high quality and effective)
    • the individuals in the team get more personal learning and fulfilment from team membership than frustration and alienation

  4. Fourth, there are many, many kinds of leadership contribution – it is for everyone to find what theirs is and then to develop to be the best they can be. Our role at CharacterScope is to give you the tools and support that help you develop the strengths of character and habits that are the foundation of your leadership.

  5. Fifth, we all know good leadership when we see it in others, but it is often more difficult to recognise it in our ourselves. CharacterScope is about learning to recognise, develop and celebrate what it is we do that will be experienced by others as good leadership.

  6. Sixth, good leadership creates good leadership – there are no winners and losers. If we can help others lead well they will help us lead well. Collectively, incrementally you will do the things that make the relationship or group or team or movement better – healthier, more effective, a place in which people flourish, better able to adapt, to shape their collective future.

  7. Seventh, the art of leadership can probably never be fully mastered but the results of trying will be good leadership.
The Engaging Leader

The Engaging Leader

Engagement matters

Most organisations know that engagement matters. To take one example, the Gallup organisation has measured engagement for decades with their framework (Gallup q12) and tracked the impact of engagement on business performance. Their 2016 analysis included data on 1.8 million employees across 82,000 business units and showed that top-quartile business units outperform bottom-quartile units by 10% in customer engagement, 21% in profitability and 20% in productivity.

There are only a small number of factors that drive engagement, such as working for an organisation that has a deep sense of purpose. And key amongst these factors is the quality of the relationship an employee has with their immediate manager.

So, this leads to the question: what is it about some managers that means they get higher engagement scores? What is the distinctive pattern of their strengths?

Engaging or charming?

Who comes to mind when you think of a charismatic leader? Maybe the great orators? But also, maybe those who charm their way out of tough situations, who seem able to get people to like them even against their better intentions. We talk about a magnetism in their character, an ability to pull people towards themselves and their ideas. Engaging? Definitely, but in a particular way.

If we work for a charismatic person, we find their charm can soon cloud if they have a need to stand in the sun all the time, to be the centre of attention, for everything to be a reflection of themselves.

In our CharacterScope data set we see a quieter, less egoistic and more deeply engaging version of the charismatic character: that of the Charismatic-Servant leader.

Their spirit is nicely captured in this quote attributed to Queen Victoria, contrasting her experience of working with two of Britain’s key political figures of the 19th Century:

When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.

The charisma of Disraeli is turned back from himself into the other person. Rather than a need for his audience to find him interesting, he invests in finding what is interesting in the other person and thereby helps them believe the best of themselves. It’s an experience we can’t help but find engaging at a level that goes far beyond immediate charm.

Where are your Charismatic-Servant leaders?

The Charismatic-Servant profile is a combination reasonably frequently seen in our data-set, but do you know where they are in your organisation? The chances are you won’t, because they are not likely to post their achievements in neon lights on the wall behind their desk.

The Charismatic part of their profile means that they enjoy pulling people towards them, that they enjoy engaging and even charming people. The Servant part of their profile brings a really interesting balance: they get their own ego out of the way and focus instead on the team and people around them. So yes, they engage people, but engage people around shared goals and people’s strengths, rather than around their own ego or personal needs.

When we work with someone with this combination, it’s hard not to be engaged! But there is a quietness to the profile that means they will often be off the radar of senior leaders looking for indicators of future talent, which often bias towards more obvious indicators such as having a quick mind, self-belief, and a strategic outlook.

Instead, if you really want to find where they are in your organisation, just take a look at your engagement scores. Of all the Leader types, the Charismatic-Servant leader has the strongest correlation with high feedback scores on ‘Engages people’ and ‘Creates trust’.

The twist

Not only is the psychological make-up of the Charismatic-Servant leader one which means that they tend not to promote themselves, our data-set shows that they are significantly more likely to be female than male, by a ratio of 2 to 1. Gladstone, in his compulsion to demonstrate his intellect, is probably more typical of male leaders, and Disraeli the outlier. Yet if engagement drives business performance, and the particular pattern of strengths of the Charismatic-Servant leader drives engagement, it’s worth wondering why more models of high potential aren’t explicitly built around their distinctive strengths.

For now we’ll pick out two signature strengths of Charismatic-Servant leaders: their Zest and Other awareness.

Perhaps men feel less comfortable with the outward display of enthusiasm and positivity that is the hallmark of zestful people, but we’ll save that for a further article on the gender differences in our data. What is clear is that all leaders can improve their ability to be an engaging leader by building these key strengths.

So if you have a CharacterScope account, dig out your Solo and Viewpoints reports and take a look at where these strengths lie, and think seriously about signing yourself up to the Zest development plan.

If you’re not yet a CharacterScope account holder, just ask yourself this single question: being outwardly enthusiastic about life is as natural to a seven-year old as liking ice-cream; where did your zest go?

Leaders inspire leadership

Leaders inspire leadership

Let’s do a quick recap from the earlier blogposts. We’ve seen that there is no definitive list of ‘leader traits’: leaders are as diverse as humanity. We’ve also seen that there is no neat list of leader behaviours or skills. Instead, we’ve seen that a focus on why we have leaders gets us real traction:

  1. Leaders create meaning and purpose
  2. Leaders inspire leadership in others.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

In this blogpost, we’re going to focus on leadership and make it personal: to pick up the ‘how’ questions. How do leaders lead? How do people showing leadership do it?

People follow people

As we have seen, the list of qualities leaders apparently need to show quickly becomes overwhelming and self-contradictory. Depending on who you read, leaders are visionary, entrepreneurial, practical, have integrity, make people feel special, and so on into a long list. But we can simplify all of this with the observation that people follow people. That leadership is at its root about one person choosing to follow another person.

3. Leadership is personal: people follow people.

Which leads immediately to the question ‘why would someone choose to follow you?’

Leaders inspire leadership

Leaders inspire leadership from others. This means inspiring people to be prepared to put their heads above the parapet, to take a stand, to call out what isn’t working and what can be improved. Leadership is not the same as the exercise of power. For sure, when someone has power it can make it easier for people to follow if that person’s role gives them the authority to direct. But if we think it through, what is being followed is the authority invested in the role rather than the person.

When a police officer directs us to do something, we are following the authority we as a society have invested in the police as an institution, enacted in the role of the police officer. We are interested in something different here. It is when people feel they have the option not to follow that leadership becomes particularly interesting, because people are choosing to follow. Leadership and followership are two sides of the same coin.

At the heart, leadership involves you and your colleagues actively shaping the environment within which you are working and living – the network of relationships, the physical environment, the psychological environment, the culture of the team – taking active personal ownership, rather than seeing it as someone else’s responsibility. Yet as we explored in the last blogpost, doing this isn’t without risks: what if others don’t follow your lead?

Make it personal: your character

If leadership is a personal act – people follow people – it is helpful if we can give other people good reason to want to follow, and this takes us into an exploration of why it is that one human being might choose to follow another. What are the qualities that make it more likely for followership to happen and which qualities are less relevant?

There are indeed many ways of leading, but that there are certain qualities of a person that make it easier for one person to follow another. These are your distinctive, personal pattern of strengths of character and intelligence. People will follow your lead because of your own, authentic, distinctive character.

For some, this will be their charismatic ability to energise people and give them a sense of optimism. For others, it will be because of their seriousness, responsibility and determination to deliver on their commitments. For other again, it will be because of their ability to find fresh angles, see into the future and their willingness to try, to experiment.

CharacterScope’s role in helping you develop

We see our role at CharacterScope as helping you understand and build confidence in your leadership contribution, and then to develop it. We help you to recognise, value and play to the strengths that make it easy for others to follow your lead.

We provide the tools and insight to help you understand why people will be prepared to follow your lead, and to have an idea what your ‘natural’ leadership contribution is – the one you will feel most comfortable and confident making. Yet we go beyond self-awareness and provide the content and tools to help you actively develop your character strengths, whether it’s your self-belief, resilience, optimism, your ability to think ahead, to build perspective, to develop your spark of originality.

For all of the 34 strengths in our CharacterScope framework, there’s a 25-day development plan. We don’t pretend it’s easy developing character, but we do know it’s a prize worth working for.