Leadership and Character
In the face of major social, political, and environmental challenges, there is a prominent public focus on leaders and leadership. In a connected and complex world, a heroic leadership paradigm has given way to a collaborative paradigm of leadership that is human-centred and values-based. There are three key components at the heart of this new leadership:
Purpose: Good leadership is driven by a compelling pro-social purpose that functions as a leader’s north star, guiding through difficulty, and helping them to keep moving forward. Purpose determines the nature of success that leaders strive towards.
Values: A leader’s purpose is only as good as the values that underlie it. In the UK the Nolan Principles of Public Life point to values that are at the heart of good leadership in a free and fair society: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, and honesty.
Character: Character joins who we are and how we lead, enabling leaders to join aspiration to action when it comes to embodying their values and purpose. Read more about character below.
The Heart and Art of Character
What is Character?
Character is the guiding core of who we are – a mosaic of personal qualities that are developed over time and govern how we consistently perceive, think, feel, and act. Our character includes both our aspiration to be a certain kind of person and how we act on our values and concerns.
Why does Character matter?
Good character is at the heart of what it means to live well. Positive character traits like integrity, creativity, courage, and compassion are known as virtues or “excellences” - ways of being that contribute to our own well-being and the well-being of others around us.
How is Character developed?
Character is shaped over time. It grows through a personal journey of repeated practice, observing role models, and reflection on experience. And it is shaped socially by people around us and patterns of institutional life, by the stories and spaces we inhabit. Character often grows most in the midst of difficulty.
How do we do this?
Leadership in Business
Evidence suggests that strong company values boost performance, guard against ethical failures, and enhance employee well-being. We conduct research in business contexts with a particular focus on law, business, finance, and technology. Supported by the John Templeton Foundation, and in partnership with the Forward Institute, our major research in this space is a three-year £2.6m study that focuses on character, culture, and leadership in UK businesses.
We have recently published the first significant survey of its kind in 7 years. Analysing data from 221 companies, the UK Business Values survey explores what businesses mean by their values as well as what those values are.
Leadership in Higher Education
Building on our cutting-edge research on leadership and character development, we offer a number of programmes that bridge theory and practice and make a lasting contribution to society. Using seven strategies for character development, our programmes help students and professionals to realise their leadership potential and become wise thinkers and good leaders.
Since 2014, we have been running the Global Leadership Initiative, our flagship leadership development programme for Oxford postgraduates. In recent years we have introduced a number of global programmes to disseminate our resources around the world. Learn more about these programmes here.
Leadership around the world
Our global leadership research focuses on values-based leadership in low-and middle-income countries. We are seeking to contribute to the growing field of leadership research which moves beyond a reliance on Western-centric ideas of leadership and models of leadership development.
We convened a diverse group of educators and consultants from China, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Trinidad and Tobago, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa to map the leadership landscape in under-researched contexts. We aim to develop leadership resources that embed diverse global perspectives and the kind of leadership needed to address major challenges such as those highlighted in the UN SDGs.
Personality is how you respond on a typical day. Character is how you show up on your worst day. It's easy to demonstrate fairness, integrity, and generosity when things are going well. The real question is whether you stand by those values when the deck is stacked against you.
Prof Adam Grant
Professor, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania