One characteristic that high performing and morally focused CEOs have in common is an understanding of their life story and the events that happened in their life, shaping them into the people they are today. This idea is a cornerstone part of Fred Kiel’s book Return on Character. Kiel researched successful companies and CEOs trying to identify the importance of strong moral judgement, personal ethical behavior, and ideas of responsibility among company leaders. He found that CEOs who displayed strong moral character and built leadership teams that mirrored their approach to relationships and ethics, outperformed those who were self focused and did not apply rigorous moral standards to their work and companies. The businesses led by these moral CEOs had employees that felt more engaged, and productive, had better relationships with the communities in which they served, and had loyal customer bases. All of these benefits stemmed from the CEOs high moral standards and made the companies more successful. A key aspect in the lives of the CEOs who led these high performing companies was self-reflection and self-awareness.
Kiel argues that you cannot build a foundation of strong moral habits and characteristics without reflecting on what has impacted your life and led in you in a direction where you become more considerate, looking beyond your own benefit to see the world from multiple perspectives.
“Uncovering the sources of your character and moral habits is, in many ways, an essential element of compiling a coherent life story. By piecing together a clear picture of how you formed your understanding of the world, you can identify the source of the negative ideas, emotions, or responses that may be promoting those aspects of your character that you need to address.”
This process of self-reflection is challenging, but what it uncovers are the motivations that push us to action and drive us toward goals which we were not aware of. To avoid becoming self focused and acting in only your own interest one must truly examine how they define success, and where that definition originated. If we are chasing a certain lifestyle, a certain size of house, or a certain car just to show others that we have become successful, then we are acting out of a misplaced motivation. Our motivation is based on what others see as successful and we are trying to act in a way to impress and show others that we are valuable, ultimately pushing us to be more interested in our own success than the success of the bigger organization in which we fit.
Contrasting this vision of a self-focused individual, a CEO with a strong moral character would have at some point recognized what drives their motivation and their definition of success, and they would have realized that it can be toxic to act out of motivations defined by another individual. To truly follow ones passion and find a better aligned level of success, it is important to know what pressures society, parents, friends, and others have placed on us. We may want to reach a certain level in our career to impress those who are in our social group, or we may be trying to reach standards of success presented to us in advertisements. A virtuous leader would understand their own vision of success, and find a goal that aligns with their inner self and is worth driving toward. Their life story would help them understand where they are, where they want to go, and how to move forward in a way that returns the benefit to everyone.