Essential Leadership Trait Character

Character is an essential leadership trait. What is the cost to leadership when character is absent?

Six Leaders Who Lacked Character

In fact, there isn’t a single character who has, well, character… no one has a moral framework that guides their choices. Character in leadership is under siege.

Governor Mike Morris (played by George Clooney), Governor of Pennsylvania and Democratic presidential candidate. His lofty ideals become an easy target for self-interest and self-preservation.

Stephen Meyers (played by Ryan Gosling), the young, engaging, energetic junior campaign manager for Mike Morris. He is shabbily treated and responds in kind with greater intensity.

Paul Zara (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), Mike Morris’s senior campaign manager. He is completely incapable of giving a second chance and vindictive in his vengeance.

Tom Duffy (played by Paul Giamatti), senior campaign manager for Senator Ted Pullman, Mike Morris’s chief opponent for the nomination. His cynical and callous initiative to destroy a young and gifted campaign manager eventually backfires.

Molly Stearns (Played by Evan Rachel Wood), an intern with Mike Morris’s campaign, and daughter of Jack Stearns, chairman of the DNC. Easy sex eventually costs her dearly.

Senator Franklin Thompson (played by Jeffrey Wright), North Carolina Senator. He holds the key delegates to win the nomination … and plays one side off the other, first for Secretary of State, then for a place on the ticket.

They all paid a price—in one case, with the person’s life. And for all, they lost their soul. None so starkly as Stephen Meyers, the junior campaign manager. He very rapidly and very decisively crosses the line that puts him in the same cynical terrain as the two senior campaign managers—and as his candidate as well.

Stephen Meyers’s only satisfaction is that he played the game better than the two senior campaign managers, who had no compunction about destroying him and his career.

The movie ends abruptly—and at a point where one of two things would happen (we don’t know which). Will he crack under the weight of his lost innocence and the price he paid to get what he wanted? Or will he consciously kill his conscience, and so become—so early in his career—morally dead, completely divorced from the idealism that inspired him when we first meet him in the movie. Will his leadership lack character?

The Benefits of Character in Leadership

But in the end, the cost of ignoring character may be higher still. The long-term benefits of leading with character outweigh its short term costs… something great leaders remember when the temptation is strong.