Character and Culture Cherie Harder

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

A month after graduating, I moved to DC to start work on Capitol Hill as a junior legislative aide. Over the next several years, I would work for a House Member and three Senators in a variety of capacities. Relatively quickly, I was struck by how the various House and Senate offices seemed to take on the ethos, tone, and reputation of their leader.

With 535 separate House and Senate offices, and Members and staff pressed into close proximity, there was a lot of opportunity to observe (and hear about) how differently offices operated—whether it was the priorities that were set, the behaviors that were encouraged or tolerated, the management practices imposed, or the expectations instilled. A Senator or House Member who was characteristically calm and measured tended to have staff who mirrored those qualities.

Hard-working members generally formed an office culture of conscientiousness. Hotheaded members seemed to end up with volatile staff (whether by recruiting the like-minded or allowing histrionics) and drama-prone office environments. At one point, I was bewildered to hear a more senior staffer from a different office brag about smashing his office computer in a fit of pique. It was, he claimed, something his boss had also once done—they were an intense and driven office. It would have resulted in sure and speedy termination in the Senate office in which I worked.

It was an early object lesson in the way in which a leader’s example forms organizational culture. And it was a sobering realization: failures of character and conduct among leaders have a tendency to reproduce and reappear in those they lead, such that it is difficult to divorce individual character from organizational culture.

This raises challenging questions: if, at a time when most Americans believe that character is in decline, and increasingly express cynicism and distrust towards national leaders (of virtually every ideological persuasion), what can be done—whether on an individual, organizational, civic, or cultural level—to help form character and encourage moral leadership?

This Friday, we’ll wrestle with such questions with the help of with two scholars of leadership, Dr. Robert Franklin, who holds the Laney Chair in Moral Leadership at Emory University, and Prof. Michael Lamb, who directs the program for Leadership and Character at Wake Forest University, who will discuss “Character and Leadership in Chaos and Conflict.” We’ll engage the nature and need for character in leadership, how it is formed and cultivated, and the implications of its presence (or absence). We hope you will join us!


We hope you will join us this Friday, July 31st for what promises to be a fascinating conversation between two scholars of moral leadership: Dr. Robert Franklin and Dr. Michael Lamb.

Register for our Online Conversation


Recommended Reading and Resources
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below as both an encouragement and catalyst for reflection.