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Effective leadership today – character not just competence

Brian Leavy (Dublin City University)

Strategy & Leadership

ISSN: 1087-8572

Article publication date: 18 January 2016




Three recent publications by noted authors offer valuable insights into the new directions that leadership development thinking and practice now need to take, with all of three books placing particular emphasis on the importance of character, identity and values, not just competence.


Organizational psychologist Fred Kiel’s book, Return On Character sets out to show that the strength of a leader’s character is an important driver of business success and to examine the implications for leadership development. Discover Your True North by Harvard professor and former CEO of Medtronic Bill George examines why the self-development process of discovering one’s core values and passion (authenticity) to lead is essential to becoming an engaging and empowering leader. The theme of leadership as a life-long developmental challenge is Robert Kaplan’s primary focus in What You Really Need to Lead.


Kiel’s data revealed a clear relationship between the strength of a leader’s character and demonstrated mastery of these key skills, with virtuosos “consistently” outperforming their more self-focused peers.


One of the reasons that character matters is that leaders who more consciously and persistently search for greater self-awareness over the course of their careers tend to become ever more capable of questioning “not only the ideas of others” but even their “own most cherished beliefs,” and as a result, their understanding of their life, their business, their marketplace, and the global forces that shape them “enters a state of continual growth and development.”



Leavy, B. (2016), "Effective leadership today – character not just competence", Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 44 No. 1, pp. 20-29.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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