"Character is much easier kept than recovered.” - Thomas Paine
“The best index to a person’s character is (a) how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can’t fight back.”
- Abigail van Buren
“Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are to some extent a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece…by thought, choice, courage, and determination.”
- John Luther Long
Here is a simple tip for aspiring leaders – It is far better to have character than to be one.
I once heard Bob McEwen (former Congressman from Ohio) define character as combination of morality and integrity. According to his definition, morality is not doing wrong thing while integrity is having strength to do right thing.
Based on this definition, character is not something you just have. You must work to build character every day. It is something that develops over time, but is destroyed in a moment.
Why, as a leader, is character a big deal?
Without even considering moral and legal implications of character lapses, just look at impact on your organization. As John Maxwell says, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” By this standard, your personal character will become character of your organization. Consider these facts:
- 58% of workers surveyed indicated that employee fraud would decrease if managers (company leaders) were better role models (Oct 2002, Ernst & Young, “The CPA Letter”)
- 80% of people surveyed indicated that they decide to buy a firm’s goods or services partly on their perception of its ethics (2003, Wirthlin Worldwide)
- Unethical behavior leads to more sabotaging behavior in workplace, such as:
o Under delivering on commitments
o Over promising to win a customer or gain support for a project
o Wasting time and energy guarding turf
o Lowering goals to avoid failure rather than striving for excellence
o Padding budget to look better
o Fudging results to stay competitive
o Hiding facts
o Skipping over details
o Withholding praise from others
o Hogging credit
o Shifting or buffering blame
o Looking for scapegoats
(Case Western Reserve University, Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science)