Character Matters


When I think of the gravity and importance of character, I am reminded of the German proverb that says: "When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost." Character is everything. It is an important ingredient to lasting success. No leader can be successful without character. Your character is what makes or breaks you because no one trusts or follows a leader of poor character. 

I often chuckle when people say, "What I think or how I live my life outside of the corporate setting does not matter. As long as I do my job well and I have a great reputation at work, the rest is irrelevant." I beg to differ. John Wooden, UCLA Hall of Fame basketball coach was quoted saying, "Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Forging the right character is an integral part of the kind of life we will each have today and the legacy we plan to leave behind in the future. It is our character that drives what we will say or not say, how we respond to external stimuli and the choices that we make especially when things get rough.

There has been too many a leader who demonstrate the necessary skills and talent to get them elected or selected for a high visibility position but then it very quickly becomes apparent that they lack the character necessary to keep the position. They are eventually publicly or privately disgraced because they were too undisciplined to forge the character required to sustain office. 

Even as recently as this week, we have an example play itself out right before our very eyes. A leader who has a penchant for constantly living life below the line eventually being reduced to nothing; falling on the sword of his personal flaws and his refusal to acknowledge them or to change; blinded by power and developing a false sense of entitlement fueled by arrogance, and allowing his self-interest and lack of values, morality and character to result in his ultimate downfall. John C. Maxwell said it well with this quote: "Power really is a test of character. In the hands of a person of integrity, it is of tremendous benefit; in the hands of a tyrant, it causes terrible destruction." Poor character almost always eventually leads to some form of destruction.

Humans are creatures of habit. What we practice in the dark will ultimately come to light. It's simply a question of time. Every liberty we allow ourselves in speech and in deed is building us into what we will ultimately become. What we do is what makes us. And ultimately, it is who and what we become that matters and not the things we achieve or the riches we accumulate. As we throw caution to the wind and stop caring about how we conduct ourselves in private, thinking that we can draw a thick solid line between what happens behind closed doors what we say and do in public, sooner or later language and behavior that is intended for indoor use will make it's way outdoors in some form or another. H. Jackson Brown Jr. said it well with this quote: "Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking." It is in the dark, in private that the bulk of our character is developed.

So what is good character? Glad you asked. The term character describes our characteristic traits. When it is said that you are of good character, it means that you are honorable, reliable and honest; that you have integrity, are courageous, and are reliable and responsible. Character is what allows you to recognize what is best for the community at large. It stops you from being selfish; one who is focused solely on their own ambitions and desires. 

If you are defined as someone who lacks character, you are more than likely someone who will cheat and lie your way into places you don't belong. You are probably also hateful, inconsiderate, terribly unreliable and lack courage. Giving up what is important and lasting for a mere bowl of soup will also be a go-to strategy for you as you have the propensity to constantly look for the path of least resistance.

Developing good character is a journey. It takes time and discipline. It is not something that happens in a day, a week or even a month. It often takes years of mental conditioning to become a person of good character. Good character is forged through the highs and lows of life that is how we learn what to do and what not to do. 

I tell my children that suffering has purpose. It builds character depending on how we perceive it. Tough times are not necessarily negative. It is a requirement to build resilience such that what may bring others to their knees, leaves you standing tall. Helen Keller said: "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved."

No one is perfect. We are all on the journey to good character, each of us at a different stage but it's a journey we must embark upon. The price to pay for choosing not to perfect our character is much too high, much higher than the cost of doing the right thing when it hurts to do so. There is an Irish proverb that says; "Better to be a man of character than a man of means." Good character runs far deeper than riches ever will. It lasts much longer that wealth ever can. Good character is worth fighting for.

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