"When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends." Japanese Proverb
Because we have free will, we have the ability to present ourselves in different contexts in a number of different ways. As we grow, we look at situations and recognize that all things are not the same. We are called on to be formal, informal, stern, relaxed and as leaders we know that at times we need to exercise control while at other times we need to let go. We sometimes need to teach and in other situations we need to be the learner.
While we are able to adjust our behaviors and approaches to the context, these presentations of ourselves are ultimately superficial. What makes a good leader is the ability to adjust behavior. What makes a GREAT leader is the ability to adjust behavior based on a strong foundation of character.
Character is not flexible…it is the definition of a person. The core element of character tends to show itself in the things that are constant in a person's life. A person's friends and the environment in which they keep themselves is a reflection of what is important to that person. Those we spend discretionary time with are often those with whom we share the same life-view and the same values.
This is why I am always bemused by the scores of people who claim to have been "friends" when the Bernie Madoffs or the Jerome Kerviels of the world suddenly become righteous when things go wrong. Granted, many people are and were victimized by the behaviors of leaders. But it is difficult for me to believe that, if you run with the pack, you are completely unaware of what the pack represents. If I look at the people to whom I am attracted and with whom I spend my time, I find an interesting reflection of what is important to me. If you hang with greedy people, it is likely that greed is one of your values. If you are comfortable with those of high character, it is likely that high character is an attribute of yours as well.