Fred Kiel, author of Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win, conducted a seven-year study of more than 100 CEOs, their companies and 8,500 of their employees. What he found was that leaders of strong character achieved up to five times the return on assets as did leaders of weak character.
Kiel discussed his findings and views on leadership in an interview with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and a vice president at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also is the head of the organization's Center for Government Leadership. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. What are the traits of leaders who have high character?
A. The leaders who attained the greatest financial bottom-line results had strong character habits that involve four basic principles: integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. They almost always tell the truth, keep their promises, are willing to own up to their mistakes and take responsibility for their choices. They are very forgiving of others. They are all about learning from mistakes rather than punishing. And finally, they care about people.
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