117: Return on Character: Moral Habits & Reputation of CEOs Who Win | with Fred Kiel

by Joe Sherwood on August 1, 2015

Book-cover-Return-on-Character1When you’re the CEO or senior leader, bottom-line results matter. Especially when the going gets tough, the conventional assumption is that the big boss should push profits by any legal means necessary, even if it means twisting the truth, breaking promises, and being a jerk to other people.

But for most of us, that intuitively feels wrong. We’d like to think that virtue isn’t just it’s own reward; that doing the right thing and treating people right is smart business that also delivers results to the bottom line.

What does the data say?

A new study of more than 8,000 employees and 84 CEOs found that character really does matter. In fact, character-driven leaders and their teams consistently deliver nearly five times greater return, as well as reduced risk and higher employee engagement. In today’s show, Jesse interviews Dr. Fred Kiel, who led the study and wrote the new book Return on Character.

In addition to higher financial results, character-driven leaders and their teams achieve:

  • 26% higher workforce engagement
  • 20% advantage in keystone leadership skills of vision, strategic focus, accountability, and senior-team development
  • Lower levels of risk

Character is a combination of habits that can be learned and cultivated. Four key character habits lead to specific business outcomes:

  • Integrity leads to confidence in leadership – for example, keep your promises and follow through on your commitments.
  • Compassion leads to collaboration – for example, treat people as people rather than commodities or numbers.
  • Forgiveness leads to innovation for example, accept that people make mistakes (as distinguished from repeated carelessness)
  • Responsibility leads to a culture of accountabilityfor example, own up to your mistakes and correct them.

On top of the character scale are leaders Kiel calls “virtuosos,” and leaders at the bottom “self-focused.”

  • Virtuosos use both head and heart to orchestrate a high-performance team that serves others.
  • Self-focused leaders are mainly out for themselves.

Fred Kiel, PhD, is a psychologist and co-founder of the consulting firm KRW International. For more than 30 years, he has helped Fortune 500 CEOs and senior executives achieve leadership excellence and mission alignment. His previous book is Moral Intelligence.

Kiel Quote

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