CHARACTER: The Undervalued Virtue of Human Goodness

 “Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny. It is the light that guides your way.”                                               – Heraclitus

My early years were filled with my father’s passion for sport and love for his sons. Dad was a nationally ranked gymnast, and when I was in elementary school, he would take me every Saturday morning to the old YMCA in our community. We would work, just him and me alone, on the parallel bars, tumbling mats, and climbing ropes. While he’s been gone now for more than thirty years, I can still close my eyes and feel the strength of his biceps and shoulders lifting me gently up on those bars. I can feel his thigh muscles as I would rest on them, learning to find a resemblance of balance on the mat. I can remember the enthusiasm and caring that lay below all of his dedicated actions. He wasn’t there because of his ego. He was there because of me and what he desired to instill in me.

When I was in high school, it was my father who inspired a dream within me to make the 1980 Canadian Olympic team as a track athlete. It was that dream that in turn inspired me to get up early to train and to take better care of my health. When I would lie in bed at 5:00 a.m. debating about whether to get up for my morning run, it was the power of that purpose that enabled me to get my feet on the floor and my rear end out the door in -25°F weather.  I can still hear my father tell me that, “The purpose of having a dream is not to achieve your dream. The purpose of having a dream is to inspire yourself to become the kind of person it takes to achieve your dream. Very few people make it to the Olympics, and even fewer stand on the podium, but anyone can become the kind of person it takes to get there.”

While I didn’t qualify for the Olympics, having the dream inspired me to live a healthier, more disciplined life. To this day, I have maintained many of those healthy habits ingrained in me over forty years ago. While my purpose has changed and broadened, the inspiration remains.

The seeds of character were planted early on in my life. At sixty, my father would walk around the house on his hands. But he didn’t lead with the strength of his shoulders. He led with the strength of his character. And he understood that character is developed by the daily discipline of duties done.

Twenty-three centuries ago, Aristotle distinguished between what he termed “external goods,” such as prosperity, property, power, personal advancement and reputation, and “inner goods,” or “goods of the soul,” including fortitude, temperance, justice, compassion, and wisdom. He taught that the good life is not one of consumption, but of the nourishing of these deeper, hidden virtues. Unshakeable character calls you to shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can give, to endeavor not for what you can have, but for who you can be.  If you want to attract others, you must be attractive.  A job title, the letters behind your name, the size of your office, or your income are not measures of human worth. No success by the world’s standards will ever be enough to compensate for a lack of strong character.

It’s not the fierceness of the storm that determines whether we break, but rather the strength of the roots that lie below the surface. Character is the courage to meet the demands of reality. When your wealth is lost, something is lost; when your health is lost, a great deal is lost; when your character is lost, everything is lost.

Originally published in 1934, this poem, written by Peter Dale Wimbrow Sr. was a favorite of my father’s and beautifully illustrates this virtue of character.

It’s called, “The Guy In The Glass.”

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

This past month I had the good fortune to speak to my daughter’s high school English class about authentic leadership and the strength of character. At the conclusion of my presentation I recited this poem and then I told these students that if it were my poem, I would have added one more verse:

When you don’t get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you dirt for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that guy has to say…

Don’t Mistake Spontaneity For Authenticity

This week, in my friend and colleague, Corey Olynik’s weekly column (go to www.coreyolynik.com to subscribe; I highly recommend it), he poses some great questions about authenticity and authentic leadership. To quote Corey, We hear so much about being an “authentic” leader. I believe that fully. You must lead from who you are; at the same time, authenticity does not give you permission to be a jerk. The most productive leader leads from her strengths and dials back those tendencies she has to react poorly… When might you mistake spontaneity for authenticity? When might your words or actions work against you or your organization? How do you protect your “inner jerk” from surfacing as you interact with your people?”

Authenticity is not the same as spontaneity. Being an authentic leader goes far deeper than living emotionally and compulsively with no constraints. There are at least six fundamental requirements to be authentic:

  • Self-awareness. When the seventy-five members of Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was almost unanimous: self-awareness. To be authentic you have to be self-aware. You have to be aware of how your choices and behavior impact yourself and those around you.
  • Disciplined Action. With self-awareness, authentic people understand that there is a space between an impulse to act and their actual behavior. Within that space is found disciplined choice – to act in a way that will lead to the betterment of all constituents.
  • Care. Not only do you have to be self-aware, you have to care. Caring is everything, I write in my book (by the same title http://www.davidirvine.ca/shop/) To be authentic, you have to care about how your choices and behaviors impact those you serve. A service mindset is vital to authentic leadership. You have to be committed to add value to others. Authentic leaders are builders. They are continually looking for ways to encourage others. Do those around you feel supported, encouraged, and served by you?
  • A commitment to inner work. You have to be willing to invest in your own development to know yourself and your blind spots. Authentic people invest heavily in their own development, whether it is through study, personal therapy or coaching, being mentored, self-reflection, or a combination of these. They see all blame as a waste of time, and make it a habit to look at their side of the street when relationship problems arise. They see all opportunities to learn amidst the challenges of life. By looking within, you discover a sense of purpose along with your unique gifts, passions, and values. Finding your voice and helping others to find their voice is what authentic leaders are committed to. If you don’t go within, you’ll go without.
  • Honesty and respect. Being authentic means being honest. But honesty without respect – for yourself and others – is brutality, not authenticity. Authentic people are continually wrestling with the challenge of being both honest and Not only is being a jerk disrespectful, being a jerk is dishonest because it’s not taking responsibility for what’s going on inside of you.
  • Character. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “a [person] cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.” Behavior in any relationship impacts every relationship. Authentic people set a high standard of behavior for themselves in all areas of their lives and that includes having a personal code of moral conduct. I wholeheartedly concur with Corey. Living congruently and with integrity in all aspects of one’s life excludes being a jerk or a bully to anyone at anytime.

AUTHENTICITY ISN’T ABOUT BEING PERFECT- IT’S ABOUT BEING HUMAN Three Ways To Authentic Leadership

I learned from Jerry Weinberg, author of The Secrets Of Consulting, that if you want to stay single you should look for the perfect mate. So, I would postulate that trying to be perfectly authentic will actually make you inauthentic. Earning the trust and credibility that comes from authenticity isn’t about trying to be perfect. Instead, it’s about honesty. Let me illustrate with an example:

While working with an executive on how to be a more authentic in his leadership, he told me about a meeting where he had to deliver some tough news about his team’s performance. “I was honest with them, but I could see them pulling away and withdrawing. I knew that my honesty was disrespectful, and I was losing credibility. But I also knew that if I held back my frustration with their performance would increase and I wouldn’t be doing my job as a leader. How can you be more authentic in this kind of scenario?”

Being authentic is an entirely human journey, full of paradoxes, uncertainty and tension. It doesn’t mean getting it all perfect, working from a script, or having a formula. Instead, being authentic means accepting the paradox along with the tension. Authenticity requires both honesty and respect, and a willingness to wrestle with these sometimes opposing forces. If you are completely honest and call someone stupid, you would be totally disrespectful. On the other hand, you can be so respectful and polite that you are dishonest.

Struggling with this paradox between honesty and respect is an indication of authenticity. It means you are honest enough with yourself to step back and get some self-awareness. You don’t have to tell people you are wrestling with this kind of paradox because your humility will show through. Be assured that disrespectful, demeaning leaders with no emotional intelligence do not consciously wrestle with these kinds of paradoxes. The fact that you are grappling with them and seeking ways to better lead and communicate is an indicator of authenticity. Authenticity is about being human. It’s not about being perfect.

Here are three ways to be a more authentic leader:

  1. Be open for feedback. When the 75 members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness. Seeking self-awareness is an indicator of authenticity. Certainly a 360 degree feedback tool is valuable, but asking directly for feedback is also important. “What do you want me to stop, start, continue doing in our relationship?” “On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate the quality of our relationship in the past year?” “What would take it up a notch?” These are helpful ways to get feedback. You don’t have to agree or disagree with what people tell you. You simply say thank you and take one or two areas that you will commit to improve. You can also get feedback from yourself, by taking time for self-reflection. Ask yourself how you can improve. Take an honest inventory every so often. Inauthentic people have no interest in getting to know themselves better.
  2. Realize the value of caring. In the ten years that Doug Conant served as CEO of the Campbell Soup Company, he turned the languishing business around by putting the focus back on the people who worked there. Over the course of his time at Campbell Soup, Conant was said to have written 30,000 handwritten thank you notes to his employees, amounting to about ten notes a week. “I let them know that I am personally paying attention and celebrating their accomplishments,” Conant said in an HBR podcast. After working in the leadership development field for more than thirty years, I have learned that good leadership is fundamentally about making contact, building personal connections, and helping people to grow and flourish. It’s fundamentally about caring. Good leadership means you go the extra mile to care about your organization. You care about the people you serve. And you care about the work you do and the contribution you make.
  1. Work with a guide. There’s an old Sufi saying that says, “The eye can’t see itself.” Just as a mirror reflects our face back to us, mentors, coaches, trusted advisors, therapists, confidants show us that which is so close to us we can’t see it. If you are serious about uncovering your authentic leadership, find a guide to help you through unfamiliar territory. Ask for help. While authenticity is a lonely journey, it can’t be done alone. The important thing is that others who have some experience with what you are facing can offer a supportive, accepting, accountable space to heal and learn. Guides help you step back and get some perspective. They support you, challenge you, and help ask questions like, “What’s going on here?” “What are you up against?” “What can be learned?” “What are your options?”

How To Build A Respectful Workplace: It’s Not A Program

I recently overheard a manager talking with a colleague about how he was being sent to a “Respectful Workplace Program.” I couldn’t help but interrupt and ask him about it.

“Yes,” he explained. “Everyone in our company is required to attend a one-day training seminar on how to build a respectful workplace.”

Be assured that I am respectful of whoever might, with good intentions, be running a workshop on building respect in an organization. And even without any knowledge of what will be presented in the workshop, I’m sure that this program will undoubtedly bring valuable information.

But with all due respect (pun intended!), respect can’t be taught like mathematics. Building a respectful workplace, like building respect in your home or community doesn’t come from a training program. Respect isn’t about speaking to each other nicely or holding hands or hugging each other. While we could all use a refresher in good manners, respect goes much deeper than techniques or even behavior.

If you want improve a disrespectful workplace you have to get to the root cause of the problem. A respectful workplace is achieved – and sustained – through one critical element: respect for yourself. When you have self-respect you won’t tolerate bullying, inappropriate, disrespectful comments, or people acting unprofessionally. You have the same standards for yourself as you expect from others. When you have respect for yourself you don’t demean others or act in ill-mannered ways. You have better things to do with your time, and you have no interest in being disrespectful to others. You won’t find yourself entangled in hurtful, useless and hurtful arguments. And you won’t let others disrespect you.

Here are four strategies for increasing your level of self-respect. Just as anyone can be a leader, anyone can put these into practice, beginning today. As you do, notice the positive impact and benefit to your workplace by increasing the respect around you.

  • Never make a promise you aren’t prepared to keep. Self-respect, like confidence, is an outcome of right choices, not a prerequisite. Learning to keep promises, whether it is to your child to attend his baseball game or to yourself to keep up good health habits, results in personal integrity. Keeping promises to yourself and others, even in the face of discomfort and the tendency toward complacency, gives you confidence to get through the hard times. As the late Stephen R. Covey used to say, private victory precedes public victory.
  • Create focus in your life. Clarity around your highest values, a sense of purpose, daily disciplines around your health, and an ongoing personal development plan are all ways that contribute to how you feel about yourself. People who respect themselves take care of themselves. And they spend their time being of service to others. When you start paying attention, you will notice that people with focus and clarity in their lives aren’t part of the gossiping crowds. They don’t have time for complaining or blaming others or being a part of disrespectful conversations. They are too busy focused on being useful in the world.
  • Take the high ground. If you are wondering why people yell at you or degrade you or act in disrespectful ways, it’s simple. Because you let them. You don’t have any obligation to tolerate disrespectful behavior. You don’t have to become lazy even if the people you work with are lazy. You don’t have to get involved in ill-mannered arguments. A leader I have high regard for told me once, “Never argue with an idiot because they will bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” Live on the foundation good principles, even if the people around you don’t appreciate it. Do the right thing, because the right thing will make things right inside of you.
  • Be a light, not a judge. The disciples of a Hasidic rabbi approached their spiritual leader with a complaint about the prevalence of evil in the world. Intent upon driving out the forces of iniquity and darkness, they requested that the rabbi counsel them. The rabbi’s response was one that can help us all come to grips with the malevolent forces of darkness that at times seem to surround our world. The rabbi suggested to his students that they take brooms, go down to the basement, and attempt to sweep the darkness from the cellar. The bewildered disciples applied themselves to sweeping out the darkness, but to no avail. The rabbi then advised them to take sticks and beat vigorously at the darkness to drive out the evil. When this likewise failed, he counseled them to again go down to the cellar and to protest against the evil. When this failed as well, he said, “My students, let each of you meet the challenge of darkness by lighting a lamp.” The disciples descended to the cellar and kindled their lights. They looked, and behold! The darkness had been driven out.

Self-respect doesn’t guarantee that others will treat you with respect. What it does do is guarantee that you won’t tolerate disrespect. When disrespect is no longer tolerated, it will soon cease to exist.

I’d love to hear from you about some of your organizational challenges if you are working in a disrespectful workplace or relationship. Send me your thoughts on my contact page. I’d be glad to schedule a complimentary ½ hour session to discuss your situation.

Four Ways To Be a Good Leader By Being A Good Person

John Coltrane, the great American jazz saxophonist and composer, once said that to be a better artist you have to be a better person. He could easily have been talking about leadership. It’s not about your title; it’s about who you are as a person. And you can be a better leader by working on being a better person. You must be, before you can do. To accomplish much, be much. The doing must be the expression of the being. It is foolish to think that we can accomplish much without first preparing ourselves by being honest, caring, unselfish, and trustworthy.

Leadership is about creating results through others, while helping people around you grow and flourish – without the use of positional power. It’s about presence, not position. The question is: Where does that sense of presence come from? How does one develop that presence? After years of research and observation, I’ve come to understand that sense of presence comes essentially from being a good person. It’s that easy, and it’s that difficult. Here are a few ways to develop your leadership presence by being a good person:

  1. Earn the respect of others through self-respect. We’ve all met people who are bright, talented, competent, and good at making deals, but something about who they are as a person got in the way of all their ability. Certain abilities belong on a resumé, and certain virtues belong in a eulogy. If you think about it, it’s the qualities written in a eulogy that are the ones that truly matter when it comes to earning trust as a leader. People of strong character are integrated human beings.
  2. To lead you have to connect. To connect, you have to care. You can’t fake caring, just like you can’t fake character. When coaching an executive and discussing possible reasons for the lack of results from his team I asked, “Do you care?” he kept going on about his frustration for the lack of accountability on the team and the poor attitude of his employees. I pushed further, “I know you care about results, but do you care about the people around you? Do you care about what matters to them, about their families and their values and their unique gifts?” After a long pause he shrugged his shoulders and said, “No, not really.” I then suggested he do his organization and himself a favor and step down from the responsibility of management. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Leadership is a largely a matter of caring about people, not manipulating them.
  3. Centered leaders know their worth, strength, and security comes from within. Because they don’t define themselves by their external environment, they can remain calm in the midst of the storms, secure in the midst of failure, and keep perspective in the midst of success. Centered leaders are guided by an internal compass based on their own values and their own approach to life rather than the fleeting opinions of others or comparisons to others. They are focused on what matters and are able to go within and find inner strength, wisdom, and stability, even in the midst of a demanding external world.
  4. A commitment to contribute beyond yourself, whether it’s across the world or across the corridor, makes a great leader. Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, have devoted much of their energy to global development philanthropy. While in Ottawa to discuss overseas aid with the Canadian government, he said, in part, “In countries such as the U.S. and Canada, where a lot of people are doing quite well, the question is: Can you take your loyalty and your values and go further than yourself and your family, even beyond your region and your country? Can you have, as a member of the human race, the idea that you would volunteer time or your voice, or whatever means you have to give? … people want to be associated with more than their own success – they want to have knowledge and a sense of progress that they contributed to [something beyond themselves]… We call that our ‘global citizenship’ movement.” Bill Gates understands that being a good person means allowing your success to overflow into making life better for others.

Being a good leader by being a good person cannot be taught in a leadership course or from a textbook. But it can be learned. It can be developed. My dad would say that it can be caught even though it can’t be taught. It means your motive is do good by being good. And it amounts to leading well by living well.

Integrity: Be An Integrated Human Being

In my leadership development programs I teach that if you want to make a positive impact on the world, your most important goal as a leader is to be an integrated human being. Being integrated means living with integrity. Integrity comes from the word integer, which means wholeness, integration, and completeness. Integrity is about integrating your inner life with your outer life. Gandhi said that, “A person can not do right in one department of life whilst they are occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.” Because life is not compartmentalized, any area in your life where you breach integrity impacts every other area.

Dr. Henry Cloud defines integrity as, “the courage to meet the demands of reality.” He wrote a great book by the same title. Consider some of the ways people “go around” difficulties in front of them, and what the price is, personally and collectively, for these choices:

  • A recent study showed that 82% of the top 10% of academic students in the US said they cheated to get there. 70% of them said they turned in someone else’s work.
  • A group of high school athletes were asked, “If you were given a drug that would guarantee you a gold medal at the next Olympics, knowing it would kill you in five years, would you take it?” 68% said, “Yes.”
  • You spend more than you earn and end up living on credit card debt, trying to prove to yourself or others that you have more money than you actually have.
  • Weight lifters know about compromising the integrity of a lift by “cheating” when lifting a weight by “jerking” it up, appearing that you can actually lift more than you would if it was done properly. This is going “around” the lift rather than “through” it with the intent to make an impression.
  • You pretend to be putting in a full day’s work but are actually occupying a good part of the day surfing the internet.
  • People loose trust and confidence in themselves and seek to regain it through entitlement rather than applying the work required to rebuild themselves.
  • You avoid following through on a promise because it became “hard” to keep.

To master integrity, ask yourself three questions consistently:

  1. Are you being honest with yourself? Are there any areas of your life where you are lying to yourself? Are you struggling with an addiction that you aren’t facing? Do you have an issue with anger or control that is hurting someone else? Are you neglecting an area in your life that is important you? Are you living in alignment with what you say that you value? Self-respect and inner peace flow from a clear spring. If you don’t have honesty with yourself you will find that the relationships you are in – at work and at home – will all be contaminated. You don’t have to be perfect to be honest. But have the courage to take a careful inventory.
  2. Are you being honest with others? I coached an executive that confessed he was having an affair. He thought he was “getting away” with it because nobody knew. Yet every member of his team, on a recent 360 Feedback exercise rated him low in terms of being trustworthy and approachable. Even though people may not be consciously aware of a person’s lack of integrity, they still know. And most importantly, you Breeching integrity leads to distortions in your relationships. Where are the lies in your life? You will inevitably hurt people when you are not honest with them. Are you hurting anyone in your life? Are you hiding the truth from anyone?
  3. Are you keeping your agreements? Corporations and lives across the country are being littered with habitual excuse-makers and blamers. Think carefully before you make an agreement. Be careful to only make agreements that are in alignment with your values and your purpose. Then scrupulously keep the agreements you make, even the small ones. If circumstances prohibit you from fulfilling your promise, let the creditor know as soon as you know, that the commitment is jeopardized. Negotiate, at that point, to minimize damages and re-commit to a new course of action. Do you honor your promises? Do you have a recovery process if you are unable to keep an agreement – while learning from the experience?

Integrity is the essence of everything successful.