The Choices You Made
The Choices You Made Define Your Character
The single most important factor to your success as a leader is your character. We hear this word all the time and there isn’t a day that goes by in our media about a story of turpitude involving some local, regional, national or international leader, whether suspected or proven, performing immoral and unethical acts, exposing a character flaw, ultimately resulting in their downfall. Cable news pundits often rebuke political leaders about their character flaws. Business or military leaders terminate team members because they lack character. Boards of Directors, screen in or out chief executive officer candidates based on their interpretation of his or her character. Religious, whether priests, rabbis, pastors, reverends, mullahs, the Dalai Lama, Gurus all teach the crux of character…those distinctive qualities practiced by an individual and defined by the choices he or she has made.
In the simplest terms, character and your leadership legacy are all about choices! Choices you’ve made about family, friends, religion, education, profession, and choices yet to be made that will be self-defining and consequential. You can’t avoid them, and we make them throughout the day, every day. The choices you’ve made over time, good, bad, and ugly earn you character. Metaphorically, it’s like making deposits and withdrawals from your retirement savings account. Choices you make that are good represent deposits and earn interest; choices you make that are bad represent withdrawals and come with penalties. At any point in time along your life’s journey, you can measure character if you have a balance in your account. Of course, if you are early in life, say a child, likely you haven’t been presented with enough choices to deposit. But, if you are late in life and made many poor choices, your withdrawals may very well have depleted your account.
In almost every leadership book you pick up, there will be a chapter on character. Character has been studied and antidotes written since the time of the great philosophers. It’s a word hard to define, but easy to identify because we know it when we see it. I grew up in the 1960’s watching my childhood idol Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers. He was a charismatic Italian-American, devoted Roman Catholic, Hall a Fame coach, who led the Packers to three straight and five total NFL Championships in seven years. His celebrity was such that the Super Bowl Trophy was named in his honor. He said, “Character is just another word for having a perfectly disciplined and educated will. A person can make his own character by blending these elements with an intense desire to achieve excellence.”
Intuitively we know character is essential to leadership. We often quote leaders who espouse a litany of character attributes as keys to success and frequently discuss them in the various professional and social circles we are engaged in. Undoubtedly, you have heard and will continue to hear the character question repeatedly brought up by political pundits regarding our two major party candidates for president during general elections. Why? Because character matters. We have all seen leaders with character achieve phenomenal results, just as we have seen those who cashed in their character, crash and burn.
Those being led, whether troops on a battlefield, or human resource specialists in a back office, constantly seek to define your character, and if they perceive a flaw your ability to lead suffers. So too, customers, business associates, and other teams you desire to partner with, will abandon you if they perceive a blemish in your character. If you get character wrong, the hole you dug is very difficult to climb out of, even if you have a ladder that reaches the top! But, if you get character right, and as Lombardi says blend discipline with an educated will and intense desire to achieve excellence, your ability to inspire people to perform extraordinary acts in accomplishing a collective goal, skyrockets!
Next posting is on the Composition of Your Character!