As I thought about a blog for the letter C and words that relate to leadership, many ideas came to mind: Courage, Consistency, Clear Communication, Calmness in Crisis, Caring, Charisma, Constructive Criticism – a Copious Cornucopia of Cs. However, the theme I finally decided to write about for this particular blog is the following: the Criticality of Character.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines Character as “the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group, or thing from another” and “moral or ethical strength; integrity; fortitude. Character is what defines you based on your moral or ethical strength. It is your ethical fiber. As a leader in any type of organization at any level, if you are a person of strong Character, then you know right from wrong, and choose actions that are right. You understand your strengths and weaknesses, capitalizing on your strengths and working on your weaknesses. You know your convictions and you are true to them, even if it means some personal or professional challenges come your way for standing for those convictions. These are the actions and the understanding of a person with strong Character.
John C. Maxwell wrote, “Talent is a gift, but character is a choice.” I could go to a basketball court every day for 12 hours or longer practicing ball handling and shooting, but I would never be as good as Michael Jordan, LeBron James, or Tony Parker. I love the game of basketball, and I play fairly well for a guy in his mid-forties, but I was not blessed with the gift of talent like the players mentioned above were. Character, on the other hand, is independent of talent. I can choose to follow my convictions. I can choose to do right vs. wrong, especially when doing right is harder. You can make those choices, too. To be a leader that people will want to follow, choose to be a person of strong Character.
Why is Character even more Critical for leaders than it is for those who are not in leadership or management positions? The reason that Character is more Critical for these people is that with those positions comes a certain amount of power. You probably remember Uncle Ben talking to Peter Parker in the first Spiderman movie, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Similarly, Abraham Lincoln stated, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Your Character as a leader is absolutely Critical, and it will never be tested more than when put into a position of leadership, authority, and / or power. You don’t want to just pass the test – you want to ace it – so be a leader of outstanding Character. If you don’t fully understand and embrace the Criticality of Character, then you are just another person with a duty title or a position of authority … but you’re not a leader.
Finally, there is a difference between Character and reputation. The great basketball coach John Wooden remarked, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Abraham Lincoln had a similar thought, but characterized it in this manner: “Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow. The shadow is what we think it is and the tree is the real thing.” Now you finally understand why there is a picture of a tree with a shadow at the beginning of this blog.
Be a leader of Character. Understand and embrace the Critical nature of a strong Character. Focus much more on knowing who you are and following your convictions than worrying about what others might think. In other words, concentrate on Character over reputation. Don’t stand in the shadows … be the tree.