The OAF Blog

What Defines Character in a Leader

February 24, 2014

I recently attended a leadership program at the Ivey School of Business. It involves a lot of reading and I found one article interesting and I think useful for board members and arts managers who are hiring for a new position.  As well as skills and experience that we look for in a candidate, this paper referenced three particular criteria – competencies, commitment and character. One of the more difficult elements to assess is leadership character.

Competencies and Commitment

When hiring, competencies matter – they define what the candidate is able to do, the skills he/she will bring to the role. These include intellect, organizational, business, people interaction and strategic thinking. As well commitment is critical, as it indicates the degree to which an individual will be willing to want to, and do the challenging work of leading an organization – will they be engaged in their role, show you that they are prepared to invest what will be necessary to be successful.

The article became most interesting in the commentary about character. As the authors state – “..character counts.” Character will determine how a leader perceives the environment in which they work, it determines how they will apply the skills and competencies they have and shapes the decisions to be made. Character influences what information a leader will look for, consider and how they interpret it and then implement.

The article defines character in three dimensions:

      • Traits, such as open-mindedness or extroversion. They will predispose a person to behave in a certain way.

      •  Values, such as loyalty and honesty, which are deeply held beliefs about what is right/wrong – what it makes sense to do in an organizational context

      •  Virtues , such as courage or accountability – behaviors that are demonstrative of a ‘good leader’


Character is described as comprising 11 dimensions – integrity, humility, courage, humanity, drive, accountability, temperance, justice, collaboration, transcendence and judgment. The article describes each in depth and illustrates how it connects with the qualities you are looking for in a leader. As an example, integrity is described a wholeness and soundness of leadership character. It will be apparent in principles such as honesty, candor, transparency and authenticity.

In most hiring processes, in both business and not for profit worlds, much time has been spent by human resources groups on developing competency profiles and ways to assess/measure those competencies. Much less effort has been placed on character. Character reflects the capability of a person that may not be immediately evident. It may seem to be subjective, but the article tries to describe appropriate behaviors and measures that can  identify the dimensions of character within an overall assessment of an individual.

Character is revealed by how people behave in situations. To uncover more of a person’s character during the hiring process, it is important to conduct an extensive examination of the person’s  life and work history – in good times and bad. You learn more by asking how the candidate responded to a fact situation in their past, than by asking how they would respond to a future, hypothetical situation. Integrating character and character development into the hiring/selection process may help identify the best candidate from a group of several well qualified, experienced individuals you are considering.

To read the full article,  follow this link:



The Arc of Personal Philanthropy

January 13, 2014

A Leadership Forum organized by the University of Southern California, titled Philanthropy,: Imagination, Innovation and Impact contains  a series of short, very readable commentaries on personal philanthropy. One couple, who have pledged to give away one-half of their personal wealth to philanthropy summarized five principles that have guided their thought process about giving back. They are simple, but well worth repeating here:

Principles of Giving Back

1/ Passion – If you don’t have a passion for giving, or a particular cause, consider spending your time elsewhere. Without a personal passion, you won’t be effective.

2/ Strong leadership – Leadership at all levels of a grant making/gift giving organization is important for making meaningful change. Leadership can take a variety of forms and come from unlikely places – it influences how you make decisions, how your energize staff and sustain a resilient organization.

3/ Involvement – personal involvement leads to better decision making. You will have a deeper impact, than simply writing a check to an organization.

4/ Measurement – Pay attention to the impact of your gifts and support, so that you can see the difference you are making and how you might do it better

5/ Lastly, be flexible and open to adjustment. Effective philanthropists need to be willing and able to adapt and respond to the constantly evolving challenges that face the organizations  you support



Philanthropy in a Networked World

December 17, 2013

The Monitor Group, a consulting forum ( part of Deloitte’s ) spotlights promising new ideas and practices, including pioneering new models of philanthropy. They are associated with a Canadian task force focusing on philanthropy – Northern Lights. As more information and results from this task force become public, we’ll share in future the findings and highlights.

What's Next For Philanthropy?

A 2010 report articulates "next practices", how foundations and philanthropists can develop approaches better suited to achieve positive social impact in today’s interconnected and interdependent world.

In the past 10 years, much focus in philanthropy (including arts organizations) was on how to improve organizational effectiveness and efficiency -- to better deliver programming in an environment of constrained resources. Over the next 10 years, the Monitor Group believes a further focus will be on coordination and adaptation. This means that funders will need to look to others and partners and co-ordinate efforts to address the challenges we collectively face. Because of the rapid pace of change, organizations need to be adaptable – incorporating data in a continuous loop to see what is working well and regularly adjusting strategy to add value. The collective theme is – Act Bigger and Adapt Better.

Innovation and Cross-Sector Collaboration
Going forward, the most successful funders will want to embrace a network mindset and see their work as part of a large, diverse community of partners - a more powerful effort. Funders don’t need to work with others, but if they want to achieve significant impact in their communities, they will have to. We will need to enhance our capability to lever, shift and adapt strategy in real time.

In Canada, public innovation to meet social challenges requires not for profit leaders as well as business heads and philanthropists to work outside their comfort zones. Examples of innovative organizations working collaboratively to bring forward new initiatives include:

    • Social Capital Partners: led by philanthropist Bill Young, this organization is applying market solutions to help the disadvantage find employment;

    • JUMP: initiated by John Mighton, this initiative helps children build confidence and self-esteem, through a focus on developing mathematical skills -- resulting in higher academic success;

    • Evergreen Brickworks: Green cities for a healthier planet, develops a model that balances social goals with financial necessity – blending commercial activity with grants and private donations; and

    • MaRs Centre for Impact Investing: builds online investment platforms that mobilize private capital for public good.

Place des Arts, Sudbury
In an arts context, 8 francophone arts groups in Sudbury came together to foster collaboration between arts groups with the objective of creating a shared culture facility. The facility ‘Place des Arts’ is to be built centrally, as part of a broader initiative to re-vitalize downtown Sudbury. The project is independent, but is closely related to two other major infrastructure investments in the city – a new School of Architecture and new home/expanded space for the Art Gallery of Sudbury. Collective community input and shared knowledge of each projects’ goals is helping to achieve a larger success.

For more information on "next practices":
What's Next for Philanthropy, by the Monitor Institute 

Commentary with a Canadian context can be found in this article by Deloitte:  
Canada Needs a Social Revolution


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