One of the more “revealing” experiences that I have had upon arriving in my mid-life years is that of realising that the 20/20 vision that I had as a younger man is not going to last forever – a visit to the optometrist is becoming a necessity.

Imagine for a moment that you need to get your eyes tested and possibly operated on and I inform you that there are two eye specialists in your area. The first one is a lady – she is known internationally for the quality and success of her procedures. Her “cutting edge” and innovative laser treatments have been published widely. I also tell you, however, that she sometimes performs unnecessary procedures to put some extra dollars in her purse. She does the operation well, but you probably don’t need it. The second person is a gentleman and is known throughout the area as being a person of integrity. He has been involved in community growth projects, job creation and education enhancement initiatives. He is trusted by every sector of the community, but this will be his first operation.  To which one of the two would you go?

It is not that easy to answer this question – on the one hand, you don’t want to be “ripped off” and have someone fiddle with your eyes unnecessarily; on the other hand, if you do need surgery, then you want the procedure to be accomplished successfully. Your eyes are important to you. One of my delegates answered: “I would go to the man for the diagnosis and the woman for the actual operation, if needed!” Perhaps this is a good solution!

The woman was competent – she had reputation and her procedures were widely recognised – but her character was under scrutiny and made one feel uneasy. The man’s character was in place, being trusted by all sectors of the community, but his competence was still unanswered, not yet having performed an operation.

To be a leader who is trusted by employees in an organisation and even by others within communities, both one’s competence and character need to be self-evident. This principle should impact the way we hire, particularly at senior levels, the way we manage performance and the way we reward. A leader’s integrity and trustworthiness, or lack thereof, is largely defined by the leader’s degree of character and competence.