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The Leadership Character ModelSM is a prescriptive leadership theory developed by Robert Turknett and Carolyn Turknett of the Turknett Leadership Group. This model was introduced in 2005 in their Decent People, Decent Company: How to Lead with Character in Work and in Life.

As an aid to leadership development, the Leadership Character Model describes the core qualities that create the kind of underlying character that all leaders need. The model is imagined visually as a pan-balance scale, with Integrity as the base supporting the two opposing core qualities of leadership, Respect and Responsibility, which must ideally be kept in balance. The weights that sit on the two pans represent sub-aspects of these core qualities of leadership.

According to the theory, integrity is the foundation of leadership. Without integrity, leadership behavior rings hollow. Effective leadership is balanced between the qualities of respect and responsibility. When there is respect in an organization, everyone feels a sense of partnership, equality and fairness. When responsibility is prevalent, each person is willing to take initiative and act for the good of the entire organization.


Character is grounded in integrity. Leaders must be honest, credible and completely trustworthy. A person with integrity doesn't twist facts for personal advantage, is willing to stand up for what is right, keeps all promises, and can be counted on to always tell the truth. A person with integrity makes sound decisions, especially when faced with moments of indecision, temptation and conflict. Without integrity, no leader can be successful.


Respect helps create a state of partnership and teamwork. People who demonstrate respect show unconditional high regard for others, acknowledging their value as human beings, regardless of their behavior. The respect comes through in all situations, even during times of conflict or criticism.


Treating everyone in the organization with empathy helps leaders earn trust. Leaders who are empathetic create strong bonds and are seen as less political. A person who demonstrates the core quality of empathy:

  • Can understand others’ points of view, including the views of those who are different
  • Shows genuine concern for others
  • Listens with understanding
  • Is respectful even when he or she has nothing to gain from the relationship

Lack of Blame

People who don't blame others are not defensive. They are able to reflect honestly on their own behavior and are willing to admit mistakes. When things go wrong, they don't spend time assigning blame; they spend time fixing the problem. A person who demonstrates the core quality of lack of blame:

  • Admits fault when appropriate
  • Does not look for a scapegoat in a crisis
  • Spends time fixing problems, not assigning blame
  • Is free from "us vs. them" thinking


Humility is a lack of pomposity and arrogance. It is the recognition that all people are fallible, that we are all combinations of strengths and weaknesses. People who demonstrate humility, as someone has said, "don't think less of themselves; they just think more of others." Arrogance derails more leaders than any other factor. A person with the core quality of humility:

  • Listens to others with an open mind
  • Doesn't brag or name drop
  • Clearly sees and admits their own limitations and failings
  • Is not afraid to be vulnerable

Emotional Mastery

People who have developed emotional mastery recognize that, as Epictetus said 2000 years ago, "It's not the facts and events that upset man, but the view he takes of them." For those in positions of formal power, the most important aspect of emotional mastery may be controlling anger. Outbursts of anger have no place in the workplace, and can quickly destroy a sense of organizational equity and partnership. A person with the core quality of emotional mastery:

  • Says what he or she thinks, but never berates others
  • Stays calm even in crisis situations
  • Doesn't let anxiety interfere with public speaking or with other things that need to be done
  • Reflects before reacting and is able to consciously choose an appropriate response


Responsibility is the acceptance of full responsibility for personal success and for the success of the project, team and organization. Becoming responsible requires developing and refining the following core qualities:


People who are truly accountable expand their view of organizational responsibility. At all levels, accountable people do what they can to get done what needs to get done, no matter where in the organization they have to go. They NEVER say, "It's not my job." They also hold themselves accountable for making relationships work - they don't say, "Well, I'll go halfway if they will." They take 100% responsibility for making any relationship work. A person with the core quality of accountability:

  • Takes the initiative to get things done
  • Is not afraid to hold others accountable
  • Is willing to cross departmental boundaries to help with a meaningful project
  • Takes personal responsibility for organizational success


People who are self-confident feel that they are the equal of others, even when those others are in positions of much greater formal power. People who are self-confident also recognize the value of building the self-confidence of others and won't be threatened by doing so. Self-confidence in everyone builds a sense of partnership and helps the organization get maximum effort and ideas form everyone. A person with the core quality of self-confidence:

  • Has a self assured bearing
  • Is flexible and willing to change
  • Easily gives others credit
  • Isn't afraid to tell the truth


People with courage are assertive and willing to take risks. They ask forgiveness rather than permission, and are willing to try even though they might fail. They are willing to risk conflict to have their ideas heard, balancing that with the respect that makes constructive conflict possible. A person with the core quality of courage:

  • Champions new or unpopular ideas
  • Talks to others, not about others, when there is a problem
  • Accepts feedback and really hears what others say
  • Takes the ball and runs with it, even when there are obstacles

Focus on the whole

People who focus on the whole think in terms of the good for the entire organization, not in terms of what's good for them, their team or their department. They can see interdependencies and can see beyond what is immediately observable. They have an understanding of and enthusiasm for the business and an understanding of their industry. For example, if working on a software project, they consider the implications of the whole project and commit to an outcome that works for the customer rather than focusing on just their piece of the project. A person who demonstrates the core quality of focusing on the whole:

  • Realizes that they represent their company to customers
  • Sees how the work in their area affects the entire project and the entire organization
  • Gathers information from all stakeholders when making decisions
  • Shares information throughout the company and understands the value of a knowledgeable workforce

See also


  • Turknett, Robert L. and Turknett, Carolyn N. (2005). Decent People, Decent Company: How to Lead with Character in Work and in Life. ISBN 0-89106-206-8

External links

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