The Grey Chronicles


Character + Strategy = Leadership

The concept of leadership had been studied, criticized and debated for as long as there are leaders. Norm Schwarzkopf once said, “Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.”


Character, Morales & Gilner (2009) define, is the inherent complex of attributes that determines a persons moral and ethical actions and reactions. In a previous post, The Incomplete Leader, it attempted to summarize what was missing in most leaders into synonyms or hypernyms, i.e., superordinate words. Although Character was included under the arbitrary category of Integrity, the latter—aside from character and integrity—also comprised honesty, ethics, self-disclosure, trustworthiness, sincerity, credibility, authenticity, accountability, honor and consistency.

“There is no poverty where there is character, and no wealth or honor where character is missing.” (Lau, 1995: 15).

People usually say that poverty builds character, but the above quote does not necessarily mean that. Yet, haven’t you noticed that successful people, especially politicians, usually have this recurring autobiographical narrative of coming from a poor household, strived hard, and with some bit of luck or a benefactor they made it of what they aspired to be?

Best-Loved Chinese ProverbsA Chinese proverb states “Fortunes may rise and fall and kingdoms may tumble, but one’s character never changes.” (Lau, 1995: 15). A person’s character is molded in childhood, thus it is very rare that character changes as time goes by. Incidentally, trait is one of the hypernyms—a word that is more specific than a given word—of character. Whereby, David Boje (2000) argues:

“Your personality traits can go through periods of relatively gradual change, and then one day you graduate, or enter a war, or find a new love, or a new career — and in a matter of days, a new you emerges. You accumulated little gradual changes, experimented with new ideas and skills, then one day, all the little changes, make huge leaps in your traits.” [Emphasis added.]

Davis & Schmidt (1977) pointed out that many characteristics which we regard as personal and individual characteristics of specific persons are actually social in character and derive from the fact that we are social beings who make social judgements about other people in social context.


Most management or leadership books, when they discuss strategy, would usually quote words from military strategists. Strategy is the branch of military science dealing with military command and the planning and conduct of a war (Morales & Gilner, 2009).

Jack Welch: WinningHelmuth von Moltke, a nineteenth-century Prussian general who served as military adviser to the Ottoman court, wrote that detailed military strategies invariably were foiled by unexpected events once a battle began. Von Moltke, the 19th-century equivalent of a management consultant, is Welch’s favorite management thinker.

“[S]trategy was not a lengthy action plan, but rather the evolution of a central idea through continually changing circumstances.” (Sherman, 1989)

Not surprisingly, Jack Welch’s book Winning (2005) embodies this thinking, thus he enthuses:

“Forget the arduous, intellectualized number crunching and data grinding that gurus say you have to go through to get strategy right. Forget the scenario planning, yearlong studies, and hundred-plus-page reports. They’re time-consuming and expensive, and you don’t need them. In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.” (Welch, 2005: 165)

Theodora Lau compiled Best-Loved Chinese Proverbs (1995) and here are some proverbs on strategy: “One who is wise in strategy carries an army in his mind.” (Lau: 83). Or this one: “When the emperor makes a mistake, all the people suffer.” It is often said that the last one in the “Thirty-six Stratagems”, a renowned Chinese treatise on the art of war, which recommends running away, is probably the wisest strategy of them all (Lau: 133).


Charles Handy in his Philosopher Leaders (2006: 138) explains:

“Leadership is a word borrowed from political theory, management from the world of engineering. We speak of managing things, resources, space, or processes. We lead people. Translating people into human resources suggests that they can be managed like forklift trucks, moved around, serviced, and disposed of according to the needs of the organization. You cannot however, properly talk of leading people to be moved, serviced, or disposed of. The language doesn’t work, because the concepts don’t work in political philosophy.” [Emphasis added.]

For Donald H. MacGannon, leadership is action, not position. Napoleon Bonaparte considered that a leader is a dealer in hope; while for Harry S. Truman: a leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don’t want to do and like it. In his book, Winning, Jack Welch (2005; 61) also mentioned that “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is about growing others.” Similarly, the function of leadership, Ralph Nader once said, is to produce more leaders, not more followers.

“Leadership is the essential ingredient in developing the trust necessary for building cohesion in an organization and the only source I know of for heart, grit, determination, endless hope and tenacity. The leader is the only one who can lead subordinates past mere understanding into the realm of doing.” (Maggart, 2004)

Leaders, then, inspire people with clear vision of how things can be done better.

Jack Welch Speaks: Wit and Wisdom from the World’s Greatest Business LeaderIn Janet Lowe’s Jack Welch Speaks (2008), Welch said passion provides business momentum:

“The world of the 1990s and beyond will not belong to ‘managers’ or those who can make the numbers dance. The world will belong to passionate, driven leaders— people who not only have enormous amounts of energy but who can energize those whom they lead.” [Emphasis added.](Lowe, 2008: 87)

I wonder whether Norm Schwarzkopf is right? Does it really follow that a leader without strategy, even though possessing an impeccable and awe-inspiring character, he is still an effective one?


Boje, David (2000). TRAITS: The Journey from Will to Power to Will to Serve. The Leadership Box, 07 December 2000; Revised 26 August 2003. back to text.

Davis, M.S., & Schmidt, C.J. (1977). The obnoxious and the nice: Some sociological consequences of two psychological types, Sociometry. 40:3. p. 201—213. back to text.

Handy, Charles (2009). Philosopher Leaders, The Leader of the Future 2: Visions, Strategies, and Practices for the New Era. Hesselbein, Frances & Goldsmith, Marshall [eds.] Leader to Leader Institute. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass | Wiley Imprint, 2006. p. 138. back to text.

Lau, Theodora (1995). Best-Loved Chinese Proverbs. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins, November 2008. pp. 15, 83, 133. back to text: 1 | 2 | 3.

Lowe, Janet (2008). Jack Welch Speaks: Wit and Wisdom from the World’s Greatest Business Leader. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 26 October 2007. p. 73. back to text.

Maggart, Lon E. (2009). Leadership Challenges for the Future, Leader Development for Transforming Organizations: Growing Leaders for Tomorrow. (Series in Applied Psychology) David V. Day, Stephen J. Zaccaro, and Stanley M. Halpin [eds.] Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 01 March 2004. p. X. back to text.

Morales, Franc and Leah Gilner (2001-2009). TheSage’s English Dictionary and Thesaurus. Princeton University. back to text: 1 | 2.

Sherman, Stratford P. (2009). The Mind of Jack Welch, Fortune Magazine, 27 March 1989. p. 39. back to text.

Jack Welch, Jack with Suzy Welch (2005). Winning. New York: Harper Business, 2005. p. 61. back to text.

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 LicenseDisclaimer: The posts herein do not necessarily represent any organization’s positions, strategies or opinions. Read the full version of self-imposed rules for this blog: A New Year; New Rules. Unless otherwise expressly stated, the posts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Comments are moderated to keep the discussion relevant and civil. Readers are responsible for their own statements.


1 Comment »

  1. Thanks

    Comment by Serdar — 2009.October.24 @ 17:49 | Reply

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