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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Seventh, the art of leadership can probably never be fully mastered but the results of trying will be good 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:
- Leaders create meaning and purpose
- 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.