The Three “C”s of Leadership

The British Army has been providing courses on leadership development at Sandhurst since 1812 when it was recognised that leading men into battle required more than an aristocratic background. I was at a leadership seminar there recently where the commandant was reflecting on what they saw as the criteria for leadership.
He summarised them as the three “C” s – Courage, Capability and Character. It is interesting to reflect on how well these map directly onto leadership in a business context.

Courage.
Although not generally asked to put their lives on the line – being a leader requires courage. It can be difficult to hold the line on an unpopular initiative, or to move well outside a comfort zone to take on new challenges. One definition of courage is “to act in accordance with one’s beliefs, especially in the face of strong opposition” and this is critical for a leader to ensure that they can remain consistent and keep an activity – and a team – focussed on the overall objective. Sometimes, a leader may have to maintain a distance from colleagues – this can be very lonely and takes courage to live with the realities of leadership challenges without the ability to share the load.

Capability.
To be credible as a leader, the nature of the task being undertaken must be understood and the leader be seen to be adding real value – either directly based on their experience in that field – or indirectly through their ability to motivate and aspire the team. Intelligence, communication skills and creativity are all factors which contribute to the ability of the leader to add value – and to be seen to be doing so by the team and other stakeholders.

Character.
This is perhaps the broadest and most interesting topic. At Sandhurst, there is a very thorough selection school which tests courage and capability but which is particularly focussed on character. There are several aspects to this including openness, self-confidence, self-awareness and resilience – but perhaps the most important is integrity. I’ll come back to this in a later post.

An exercise: how well does this model map onto how you assess people for leadership roles? What would be the aspects of character that you would look for – and which are the most important?

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