The Character of a Board

Our last in this series of Splats and Stiles discusses the character of the Board – the traits, values and virtues that a Chairman would wish to recruit and encourage in a good board. Because boards can strongly influence character development in the organizations they govern.

I venture into this subject with some trepidation, since it spans psychology, sociology, ethics, leadership and organization behaviour. I studied Organization Behaviour and Leadership at post-grad level but the scholarship has greatly expanded and deepened since. Character as an essential criterion in leadership seems to have emerged as a focus in academic study in 2004, in the work of Peterson and Seligman. Work done at the Ivey Business School in London, Ontario builds on it and appeals as a discussion framework for us. See

“Competencies, commitment and character

Competencies matter. They define what a person is capable of doing; in our assessments of leaders we look for intellect as well as organizational, business, people and strategic competencies. Commitment is critical. It reflects the extent to which individuals aspire to the hard work of leadership, how engaged they are in the role, and how prepared they are to make the sacrifices necessary to succeed. But above all, character counts. It determines how leaders perceive and analyze the contexts in which they operate. Character determines how they use the competencies they have. It shapes the decisions they make, and how these decisions are implemented and evaluated”.

The Ivey authors argue that these criteria are equally valid for the selection of board members as for a CEO or C-suite executive. A Board providing good leadership will necessarily exhibit all three – competencies, commitment and character – jointly and severally. What especially interests me is “But above all, character counts”.

To our article again…………

“Leadership character dimensions We define character as an amalgam of traits, values and virtues. Traits, such as open-mindedness or extroversion, may be either inherited or acquired; they predispose people to behave in certain ways, if not overridden by other forces such as values, or situational variables such as organizational culture and rewards. Values, such as loyalty and honesty, are deep-seated beliefs that people hold about what is morally right or wrong or, alternatively, what makes the most sense to do, or not do, in running a business. Virtues, such as courage or accountability, refer to patterns of situationally appropriate behaviours that are generally considered to be emblematic of “good” leaders.

We posit character as consisting of 11 dimensions: integrity, humility, courage, humanity, drive, accountability, temperance, justice, collaboration, transcendence and judgment. If we were to take just one of these dimensions – accountability, for example – we could say that it is defined by traits such as self-confidence and internal locus of control, values such as a deeply-held belief that good leaders should take ownership for their actions, and the near-universal view that good leaders readily hold themselves accountable for results. Each of these 11 dimensions has a similar underlying structure of traits-values-virtues, and each could be extensively deconstructed and discussed in greater depth.” The article goes on to state that the 11 dimensions are not final and are being reviewed with the Canadian Institute of Corporate Directors.

Having quoted extensively to set the framework, I plan in upcoming Opinion Pieces to discuss a few of these character dimensions, starting with Courage.

Here ends the Splats and Stiles series! Hope you found some parts of it worthwhile.