It has been said that true success cannot exist in the absence of strong character.
Character originates from the Greek word kharakter meaning “engraved mark.” When applied to humans, it refers to the mental and moral qualities that are distinctive to an individual. Character is something that is engraved within us…it is who we are even when no one is watching.
It is important to distinguish character from reputation. While character defines who we are, reputation involves the assessment we make of others, often with very little knowledge. Sadly, we are a reputation-obsessed society, constantly comparing ourselves to others, while spending countless hours trying to paint a certain idealistic image of ourselves. However, what we often fail to remember is what we see on the surface is not actual reality, rather it is merely our perception of reality.
The truth is that many of the hardships and failures that we often seek to mask play a significant role in creating our character. It is for this very reason that Princeton Professor Johannes Haushofer published his now famous “CV of Failures” online in an attempt to showcase the many rejections he has received over the years. This small but impactful act demonstrates how failure often precedes success and that we should always strive to lead an authentic life rather.
How Character is Developed
Contrary to popular belief, character is not something we are born with, nor is it a fixed set of traits. Rather, character is something that develops over time, largely dictated by how we deal with everyday situations, as well as how we handle significant pressures and temptations. In fact, our underlying values, intentions, perceptions, thoughts, judgments, and behaviors all heavily influence our character development. Furthermore, our character continues to evolve with every choice, decision, and action we take. Over time our choices become habits and those habits eventually define our character.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
As humans, we all have character traits – some good some bad – and these traits play an instrumental role in guiding our responses to situations we encounter in everyday life. In fact, our character is responsible for how and why we do the things we do and ultimately determines the results we get.
Success or failure in any situation or endeavor depends, more than anything else, on how we respond to events and circumstances.
Why Does Character Matter in the Workplace?
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou.
In the workplace, character is considered a foundational component of effective leadership and performance. Modern researchers have argued that character often matters more than technical knowledge or skills. In today’s digital age, education has become more democratized, with access to industry-specific knowledge becoming more readily available. As technological knowledge and skills have become less revered, a greater focus is now being placed on character development.
Many organizational leaders have begun to recognize that it is more important to hire for character and train for skills, as a person’s habits, attitudes, and dispositions ultimately determine how effective they will be in applying their knowledge and skills. While industry knowledge and technical skills will always be important, having employees who are honest, loyal, and responsible is essential.
“There are no moral shortcuts in the game of business or life…there are basically three kinds of people…the unsuccessful, the temporarily successful, and those who become and remain successful. The difference is character.” ~Jon Huntsman, Sr.
Is it Possible to Change Our Character?
In order to be truly successful, a greater focus must be placed on building strong character. While reputation comes and goes, staying true to one’s character will bring about endless opportunities for success. It is a common misconception that character traits are fixed and impermeable to change. While it may be difficult to change certain character traits, it is possible. As with anything, it takes strength, determination, and a whole lot of grit.
The following six steps can be used as a guide in helping you build a stronger character…
Identify your values and use them as a set of guiding principles. In order to build character, you need a strong foundation. Values are the building blocks of character. Take a moment to ask yourself what qualities you truly value. Take note of any perceived limitations that may interfere with you living by those values. Remember, it is not enough to merely identify a set of desired values, you must also remain aware of any habits that challenge those values. The following quote by Gordon H. Taggart perfectly describes this process…
I wish I were…
– honest enough to admit all my shortcomings;
– brilliant enough to accept flattery without it making me arrogant;
– tall enough to tower above deceit;
– strong enough to treasure love;
– brave enough to welcome criticism;
– compassionate enough to understand human frailties;
– wise enough to recognize my mistakes;
– humble enough to appreciate greatness;
– staunch enough to stand by my friends;
– human enough to be thoughtful of my neighbor.
Create your own moral code. Once you have determined an ideal set of values, select a few that you wish to cultivate and try to live accordingly. Values help us create a unique code by which to live. Begin by picturing what your “ideal” life looks like. Take a mental inventory of past choices and specific behaviors that have interfered with your list of guiding principles. A word of caution…this is not a time to dwell on past mistakes or stir up feelings of guilt or regret. Simply acknowledge any past mistakes and then use self-awareness to avoid making the same mistakes again in the future. Living by your moral code will lead to living an authentic and satisfying life.
Align your habits and behaviors with others that you admire. The people we choose to surround ourselves with have a significant influence on our character. When trying to make a change, identify the people in your life whom you highly respect and believe exhibit desirable character traits. If possible, spend more time with these individuals and learn all you can from them. The Universal Law of Attraction states that you inevitably attract into your life the people and circumstances that are in harmony with your dominant thoughts and values. As such, do not surround yourself with “convenient” friends or other negative influences who do not live the life that you desire. Befriend powerful, honorable people and make them your role models.
Commit to action and work hard to sustain momentum. In order to build character, you must practice, practice, practice. People of high character are doers, not talkers. When you decide to make a change or begin a new goal, do not push your plan into the hypothetical future. Put that plan into motion immediately.
“Men become builders by building houses, harpists by playing the harp. Similarly, we grow just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising our self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage.” ~ Aristotle
Find an accountability partner who will challenge you. People of good character do not mind accountability, in fact, they strongly welcome it. After all, we all have blind spots and often need the help of others to challenge us. Think of an accountability partner as someone who is in your corner, rooting for you. Someone who wants to see you succeed and is willing to provide you with constructive criticism. Learn to accept feedback without becoming defensive.
Remember that a need for accountability doesn’t prove a lack of character – it proves the presence of character.
Live a life of integrity no matter what. Whether at home, work, or in your daily routine, strive to live a life of integrity. In fact, make this your #1 goal. Integrity is the foundation of character and is the core quality of a successful and happy life. People of high integrity make the best leaders because they are highly respected and viewed as trustworthy, responsible, and authentic. The root of the word integrity means “whole” or “undivided” and can be summed up simply as doing the right thing for the right reason even when no one is watching….living an undivided life.
Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
There are countless opportunities for people to test our integrity. Those who are able to adhere to their values during these times will be able to maintain their integrity.