“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

— Abraham Lincoln

During this extraordinary time in history with a global pandemic, social unrest, and deep political divides, I am convinced that ALL leaders need sound character to lead effectively, whether they serve in federal, state, or local government, business or non-profit organizations.

Sound character is defined by Merriam-Webster as “moral excellence and firmness.” Think about that. What is moral excellence? Is it about having a strong moral compass? Distinguishing between what is right and wrong? I tend to think so, even though it may not be sexy in this day and age. Firmness is more about unwavering commitment and behavior. Holding to what is right.

In Lincoln’s quote, I find it illuminating that he compares reputations to shadows. If you think about it, we all cast leadership shadows with each small action. Our reputations are built upon the actions that people see from us each and every day.

Great leadership is hard work and takes honest reflection about how our behaviors align with our values and how our actions impact the organizations and people we lead.

So here is my leadership challenge for the week:

Ask yourself:

  • Does my behavior line up with my values? And does it demonstrate moral excellence?
  • Do my actions show that my character is the real thing?”
  • What is the leadership shadow I am casting today?

What is your take-away from Lincoln’s quote?

Anita Rios

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