Abraham Lincoln’s quote, “Character is like a tree, and reputation is like its shadow,” beautifully encapsulates the significance of character in ethical leadership.
Character serves as the bedrock upon which ethical leadership is constructed and plays a pivotal role in shaping the reputation of a leader.


Importance of character in ethical leadership:


  • Leaders with strong character traits like honesty, integrity, and authenticity are more likely to gain the trust and respect of their followers.
  • Trust is essential for effective leadership as it encourages open communication and fosters a sense of security among team members.
  • Example: Mahatma Gandhi’s unwavering commitment to truth and nonviolence garnered the trust of millions during the Indian independence movement.

Moral Compass:

  • Ethical leaders are guided by a strong moral compass, making decisions based on ethical principles and values rather than short-term gains.
  • Character traits like fairness, empathy, and compassion guide them in decisions that consider the well-being of all stakeholders.
  • Example: Ratan Tata’s decision to prioritize the welfare of employees and stakeholders during the Tata Nano project crisis showcased his strong moral compass.


  • Character-driven leaders are consistent in their behavior and actions, creating a stable and predictable environment for their teams.
  • Employees can rely on their leader to uphold high ethical standards consistently, fostering a sense of security and confidence.
  • Example: Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s unwavering commitment to honesty and dedication to his work as a scientist and President of India exemplified consistency in character.

Inspiration and Role Modeling:

  • Leaders serve as role models for their teams, and a leader with strong character sets an example for others to follow.
  • Ethical behavior demonstrated by leaders encourages team members to emulate those behaviors, creating an ethical culture.
  • Example: Kiran Bedi’s ethical conduct as the first female IPS officer in India inspired many to pursue careers in law enforcement.

Resilience in Adversity:

  • Ethical leaders with strong character navigate difficult situations and crises effectively. Their commitment to ethical principles guides them in making tough decisions, even in adversity.
  • Such resilience can be a source of inspiration and stability during challenging times.
  • Example: Kailash Satyarthi’s unwavering commitment to child rights activism despite facing threats and risks demonstrates resilience rooted in strong character.

Employee Engagement and Loyalty:

  • Employees are more likely to be engaged and loyal to a leader perceived as having strong character.
  • Leaders who value and respect their team members, listen to their concerns, and act ethically are likely to have a motivated and committed workforce.
  • Example: Narayana Murthy’s emphasis on ethical leadership and employee welfare contributed to the success and loyalty of Infosys employees.


Character is the linchpin of ethical leadership, underpinning trust, consistency, and moral choices.

Leaders with strong character not only build trust but also shape organizational culture and promote long-term success, akin to hidden tree roots that shape what’s seen above ground.

In the Indian context, leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Ratan Tata, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Kiran Bedi, Kailash Satyarthi, and Narayana Murthy exemplify the enduring impact of character-driven ethical leadership.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish October 9, 2023