Leadership Emotional intelligence Organizational culture

Organizational well-being: the power of leader character during times of crisis

Watch the full recorded broadcast above.

The current global health and financial crisis has caused leaders to make tough decisions with heavy consequences. How leaders handle these decisions, manage the fears of their employees, and how they lead during crisis reveals their true leader character. In this complimentary livestream, we were joined by the Ivey Institute for Leadership’s Gerard Seijts; Jeannine Pereira, EY Canada’s Director of Talent Development; and Canadian Olympian Cheryl Pounder to discuss the important role leader character plays in times of crisis. Additionally, we cultivated a deeper understanding of the power of character in business and sports, the importance of character to well-being in organizations, and the role character can play in business model reinvention.

Key webinar content

Core topics

  • A recap of the leader character framework
  • How leader character plays an important role in the work EY does
  • Overcoming obstacles in professional sports as it relates to building character
  • The connection between character and organizational well-being
  • Harnessing leader character to alleviate feelings of stress and promote mental health
  • Is character something that can be developed?
  • How trauma can affect leadership and character
  • Business model reinvention
  • Leaning on leader character during times of uncertainty
  • Effectiveness in a rapidly-changing environment
  • The relationship between a leader’s character and the character of those they lead
  • Closing thoughts

Memorable quotes

“There was a period halfway through my career where my mental health wasn’t great … I had to learn those (character dimensions) and now I practice them – mindfulness, empathy, and compassion to others but also to yourself is a learned and practiced behaviour.” – Jeannine Pereira

“Asking for help is essential to growth and learning each and every day. We need to grow every day so we can be our best self, not just for ourselves, but for others around us.” – Cheryl Pounder

“People go through experiences. An experience is either a good one or a bad one, but for us to truly learn about them we need to take time to reflect. Out of that reflection should come a set of behavioural goals that you can deliver on. Learning will only occur if you take the time to reflect.” – Gerard Seijts

Post-livestream Q&A

Mindfulness has become such a large topic within today’s organizational well-being. Has there been an explanation into how mindfulness might play a role in shaping character leadership?

Mindfulness is essential to our personal growth and well-being. Being mindful allows us to explore and better understand our own self. This in turn, has an effect on those around us; our family, our colleagues, our organization, our teams. Mindfulness builds relationships and culture. It presents the question: How is my behaviour affecting those around me?  

For me, being mindful is consciously choosing to learn about your character dimensions so you can understand HOW to grow. As someone who is high in drive, I have to be mindful that my pursuit of the end goal can affect my collaboration with others. This mindful awareness has helped me become a better teammate, more collaborative and undoubtedly more efficient. This also evokes humanity and other character dimensions that are inter-related!

No doubt about it, learning to become and being mindful is difficult. It comes from an authentic and genuine place. Valuing the time to get to know yourself and how you are affecting others matters to the health and well-being of an organization. Let’s face it, character matters. 

– Cheryl Pounder

How do we influence leaders focused on the cost-saving benefits of continuing to work-from-home who do not understand the mental toll that loss of social interaction may have on employees over time?

We need to follow the platinum rule: treat people the way they want to be treated (not necessarily the way you want to be treated which was the Golden Rule).

Two-way communication is critical. Leaders with integrity are willing to listen to their people, understand their needs, trust their employees and balance employee effectiveness & efficiency. Team members need to have the courage to share their feelings and prove how their engagement changes when they are able to interact in person and productivity increases.

We cannot underestimate the value of trust that is established through spontaneous and continuous interaction between colleagues. It creates psychological safety and loyalty. Innovation happens through spontaneous, free-flowing conversations and healthy conflict where trust is the foundation, often established through regular interactions

When remote work is the only option, judgment on productivity and deliverables is what naturally occurs, however, strength of character is critical and needs weighting.

Give employees the option to work some days at home and some in the office as needed – flexibility is what is appreciated.

– Jeannine Pereira

What are some of the early signs of declining morale that start-up leaders should pay attention to? How do you find a balance between being sensitive to the team's mental state while not being overly sensitive or overreacting?

The first signs are lower productivity, absenteeism, illness, and lack of enthusiasm and initiative. It’s important to establish relationships and conduct transparent conversations and ask the team what works for them, not what you think you would need but rather what do they need.

– Jeannine Pereira

How will character impact the diversity of leadership? Will we have more or less diversity at the top (e.g. more women)?

Interesting question!  I can only speculate.  Since 2016, we at the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership have been measuring public perceptions of character in political life; that is, which dimensions of character – accountability, collaboration, courage, drive, humanity, humility, integrity, judgment, justice, temperance and transcendence – are seen as particularly important to providing good leadership.

Once we took a deeper look at the data, we found some intriguing findings. Notably, women rate the importance of collaboration, humanity, humility, justice and temperance higher than men. The differences are small but statistically significant; and they showed up in each survey. To be clear, it is not that men see these dimensions as unimportant to leadership – far from it. It is just that women rate these dimensions as more important than men do. On the other hand, men do not rate any of the other dimensions – such as courage or drive, which are often stereotyped as a "masculine" attribute – higher or as more important to good leadership than women.

Over centuries, Western patriarchy has, by and large, socialized women to exhibit the behaviours associated with collaboration, humanity, humility, justice and temperance. These are dimensions that greatly contribute to the greater/common good. With the nature of the COVID-19 crisis demanding that approach focused on the well-being of the commons, we believe that people are trusting women to work towards that end.

It is only speculation, but if valuing the importance of these character dimensions were translated into actual behaviours – if women leaders demonstrate collaboration, humanity, humility, justice, and temperance more than their male counterparts – you would get a much more diverse approach to decision making and action which benefits everyone.

– Gerard Seijts

How, as a junior collaborator, do you deal with a tough and rude leader?

There is no easy answer to this question.  My main advice would be to focus on the things you can control, that is, your own behaviour.  You can draw on your leader character dimensions to start a conversation. In doing so, several of the dimensions need to come together. For example, if you muster great courage and nothing else, this might lead to career suicide, because candour – when not delivered well – is often not received well. Candour needs to be delivered with compassion and empathy, at least initially. If we want to have a constructive conversation, there is no point in being rude or disrespectful about it. Candour should never be mean-spirited – that’s where humanity comes into play. . The way we deliver the message has a lot to do with temperance: to be patient, calm, and composed in difficult conversations. Whatever you do, you’ll probably have to rely on many of those dimensions. There is a really good book that addresses how to lead with candid conversations: Radical Candor by Kim Scott.

Sometimes, though, a manager or leader will not change and at that point you will have to make the decision to stay or go elsewhere.

– Gerard Seijts

Where is the connection to the business objectives? Leadership means towards achieving business objectives, not in spite of those objectives.

Leader character is instrumental in building commitment among employees to business objectives. It is easy to envision how aspects of courage and collaboration play a role. In formulating business objectives, judgment and transcendence play a critical role. So, I see leader character and business objectives (as part of strategic action) going hand-in-hand – they are never independent.

– Gerard Seijts

Additional reading

Leader character framework, Ivey Institute for Leadership
Developing leadership character, Ivey Institute for Leadership
The myriad ways in which COVID-19 revealed character, Organizational Dynamics
Lighting the way: Women, character & COVID-19, Ivey Institute for Leadership

For more information on Leader Character, visit the Ivey Institute for Leadership website, follow @iveyleadership on Twitter or LinkedIn, or contact the institute at leadership@ivey.ca.

Leader character dimensions

Leadership character dimensions wheel


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About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School
The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment. 

Rooted in Ivey Business School’s real-world leadership approach, The Ivey Academy is a place where professionals come to get better, to break old habits and establish new ones, to practice, to change, to obtain coaching and support, and to join a powerful peer network. Follow The Ivey Academy on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.