To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, “If you want to reveal a person’s character, give them power.”  Authenticity and character require a lifelong courageous commitment to self-discovery, self-observation, and self-authorship. Because the word authenticity comes from the same Greek root as the word “author,” I’m sure no one would be surprised that authoring your authentic character is a manuscript that is never finished.

Terry Bacon, a former colleague and the author of The Elements of Power, has conducted research on the personal sources of power. His findings identify five personal power sources: knowledge, expressiveness, history, attractiveness, and character. Significant in his research, “character is the only source of power that can add to or subtract from every other source. You can be very knowledgeable, eloquent, attractive and have existing relationships with the people you are trying to influence, but if they perceive that your character is flawed, your power to lead and influence them will be greatly diminished.” On the positive side of character, Bacon writes, “Being recognized as a person of character enhances your capacity to lead and influence others because they trust your intentions, are more confident in your leadership, and see you as a person worth emulating.”

In a 2017 research study conducted by James Lewis and Stu Crandell of Korn Ferry Institute, 1,110 managers and executives were analyzed to discern the leadership competencies that differentiated C-suite executives from midlevel managers. Research was reviewed across thirty-eight leadership competencies and five industry sectors. Which competency rose to the top as the differentiator in multiple environments between senior leadership and midlevel management? Courage.

Interestingly, courage is one of those rare leadership characteristics, like trust, that is both a competency and a character trait. Courage and trust are foundational to progressive and sustained leadership performance; courage gives us the strength to create the future, and trust keeps us together as we venture into the unknown. Therefore, courage and character are not merely desirable, more ethical ways to lead; they are fundamental to leading versus managing. Transformative leaders create the future with courage and character; transactive managers ensure present performance with process and content.

Character works to transform and open up possibilities and potential. When we are leading from character, we exude qualities of authenticity, courage, purpose, openness, trust, congruence, compassion, and service. We have the ability to transform circumstances, open up possibilities, and create lasting value for ourselves and for others. The Character-driven leader tends to emphasize service over self.

Coping protects us and helps us get through challenging circumstances. In this sense, it has value and, if used sparingly and appropriately, will serve very specific needs. Coping works like a muscle. We need to use it at times, but if we overuse it, the muscle will collapse. Qualities of Coping include concern for image, safety, security, comfort, or control. The Coping leader may get results but also exhibits defensiveness, fear, withdrawal, or a desire to win at all costs. He or she may exclude certain people or information. The Coping-driven leader tends to emphasize self over service.

Both Character and Coping are present in most leadership situations. However, when we face the real knee-bending challenge of life and leadership, we may need to reflect, “Which one is my master, and which one is my servant now?”