Living the Code

Strong leadership character traits reflect good humor, guilelessness and sincerity.


In this last installment of this series, I’ll finish with the last three of the nine principles of effective Character at the Top. The first three outlined the attitude you need to carry to your job. The next three matched your general behavior to what science is telling us about the triggers of motivation in organizations. Here, I’ll give you the final three with specific recommendations about how to handle yourself with individuals or in small groups. Particularly in stressful circumstances.

We all have times when things don’t go as we’d hoped. I’ve come to think of these times as partial blessings. Because they test my resolve. To be what I need to be for my organization. And because I know that if I get that done, we’ll recover. And that everyone around me will be strengthened by my actions.

So here are the final three keys to exhibiting the character of a great CEO in your company.

Good Humor

Somehow we’ve come to believe that getting … “Mad as Hell!” … is what we’re supposed to do when things go wrong. Many have raised it to a high art. And many of us have done it for so long that it has lost its punch. Except in one regard.
Every time you “Lose it,” you lose more than your temper. You lose a little more respect. A little more trust. And you erode the motivation and followership in your organization. A little bit more.

Bottomline? Nobody really gives a #*@! whether you get “Mad as Hell!” any more. Everyone just goes on about their business. With diminished enthusiasm for helping you to get what you need to get done.

Your alternative? Cool, calm reserve in the face of adversity.

Not cheery. Just unshaken and determined. Determined to understand all the facts. And then to re-chart the course for your business around new hazards. Be serious. Reject seeking blame until the situation has settled. Talk slow. Ask questions. Let them see you thinking. Not reacting. Control your tone of voice, facial expressions and body language to convey solid resolve. Then make your moves.


This is a great word. That nobody uses. But I hope you’ll remember it.

It means lack of suspicion. Even for suspicious people. Of course it has practical limits. Choosing where you draw the line between people you clearly want to avoid, versus those you give the benefit of the doubt, is where guilelessness comes into organizational context.

It enters your life when someone engages you to talk negatively about someone else. The “I think you need to know about so-and-so” scenario. Working in England, we called it “the imperial embrace.” And found the opportunity to demonstrate guilelessness in its brightest light.

When guile raises its head in your relationships with employees, you have only two responses: (1) “Why are you talking to me about so-and-so … talk to him,” or (2) “Let’s go see so-and-so and we’ll talk about it together.”

Your point is to demonstrate absolute zero tolerance for behind-the-back undermining in your organization. And that until proven otherwise, your intention is to presume everyone in your business is capable and nobly intended.


Sincerity is simply meaning what you say, and doing what you say you’ll do. I walk around a lot. And always carry a shirt-pocket note pad. In conversation I often write notes. To remember the chat, but moreover to record every commitment I’ve made. Then I cross them out daily when they’re done.

That accomplishes two things. People know that I care about what they tell me. And also that I’ll do what I say. They know that I’m Sincere.

Conscious attention to adding Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Courtesy, Humility, Unselfishness, Good Humor, Guilelessness and
Sincerity into your behavior makes two things happen.

First, you’ll feel your own energy level and satisfaction performance rise. And second, others will start exhibiting the same traits in their own lives … and will push the standard … and the performance of your business … even higher.