By: Alan Weisenberger
Would you prefer to hire people of good character or bad character? Silly question…perhaps even sillier is to ask whether you want to be known as a person of good character or bad. But what is good character?
There are countless adjectives that could describe aspects of good character. I use a model that describes it in terms of three TRAITS: Integrity, Selflessness, and Responsibility. Each of those traits can be further detailed as a set of ATTRIBUTES.
Integrity – The Real You, Everywhere, All the Time
In grade school we learned about integers – whole numbers, not fractions. That’s the essence of the word integrity: To be complete, consistent, undivided. With a person of integrity, what you see is what you get. You don’t wonder which person you’ll see under today’s circumstances; you can count on them to be real all the time. Even if being real causes them personal discomfort or even pain.
Attributes of Integrity
Here are the key attributes in our definition of integrity:
- Trustworthy – A trustworthy person has good intentions and keeps their promises.
- Transparent – Transparency is willingness to be vulnerable and share information and perspectives with others.
- Authentic – An authentic person is not pretentious, posturing, or insincere. You don’t have to worry about their ulterior motives.
- Honest – It’s easy to be honest when it doesn’t cost anything. But a person of integrity is honest even when it comes with personal pain or cost.
- Loyal – Remaining supportive even when it would be easier to turn away.
The Cost of Integrity
The attributes of integrity (or any character attribute, for that matter) don’t mean much until we face a choice that puts them to the test. Will I be honest and admit my own mistakes? Transparent enough to admit that I don’t have an answer I’m expected to have? Authentically admit I see things differently than the popular opinion?
It doesn’t require integrity to make choices that cost me nothing. Integrity accepts the risks that come with being consistent and true to my own values in every situation. It’s being willing to make the right choice rather than the easy choice.
People with integrity don’t have to make excuses. They stick with the truth even if the truth makes them look bad.
If your family, friends, employees, bosses, vendors, and other acquaintances were all in a room together, would they be surprised by the way the others described your character? Some may see certain attributes more deeply than others. But integrity means their descriptions won’t conflict because you’re the same person everywhere, all the time.
Responsibility: The Right Thing Above My Own Thing
When you’re responsible for something, you accept that you own the success or failure of it. No excuses, no passing the buck or blaming others.
A responsible person keeps their eyes focused on the things that matter most. The choices they make demonstrate a willingness to say “no” to personal desires to fulfill their commitments. That also implies they recognize their own limitations and don’t commit to what they can’t deliver.
Attributes of Responsibility
Responsibility gets expressed in the following attributes:
- Reliable – Consistently follows through on commitments. Communicates unforeseen obstacles as soon as possible.
- Dedicated – Doesn’t give up when the going gets tough; makes sacrifices to get the job done.
- Intentional – Pursues purposeful results. Makes choices based on what’s most important.
- Self-disciplined – Able to overcome personal desires for higher purposes, controlling tongue and actions to stay on course.
- Future-focused – Sees beyond the current moment and is willing to sacrifice now for long-term benefit. Also not bogged down by past failures or fixated on past successes.
- Confident – Positive outlook; expects the best of self and others. Realistic about limitations.
Character is reflected in the choices we make. Making good (but hard) choices is also how we develop our character.
Responsible choices require us to have a realistic understanding of our abilities and capacities. Making choices that stretch us can be good, but we accept that our intentional choice to be stretched will cost us something. Our dedication and self-discipline will ensure we pay that cost.
Some people with under-developed character are afraid to fail (lack confidence) and never accept responsibility. They never develop their responsibility muscle. Some are people-pleasers, saying “yes” when they shouldn’t and prove themselves unreliable and end up letting down the very people they are trying to please.
It’s not that responsible people never fail, although they’re likely to fail less as their sense of responsibility matures. But they don’t hide their failures, they admit them, learn from them, and work hard to minimize their consequences on others.
Selflessness: Personal Success in Helping Others Succeed
If you had to choose between living in a world where everyone was selfish and one where everyone was completely selfless, which would you choose?
In a selfish world, everyone fights for their own interests without regard for what happens to anyone else. There is no trust, no compassion, no love.
In a selfless world, everyone helps everyone else achieve their best. There’s no reason not to trust others. Help is easy to find and needs are quickly met.
Of course, being selfless in a selfish world means sometimes you get the short end of the stick. But the intrinsic rewards of selflessness remain, and sometimes the benefits can be even greater because selflessness stands out and earns even more respect.
Attributes of Selflessness
Selfless people reflect the following attributes:
- Humble – Honest self-assessment. Finding as much pleasure in the accomplishments of others as in my own.
- Courageous – Accepting personal risks to benefit others and causes I believe in.
- Respectful – Treating others with dignity and civility, even when I disagree with them.
- Teachable – Allowing others to teach, correct, and challenge me.
- Generous – Willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of others.
- Trusting – Expecting the best from others; accepting measured risks to let them prove trustworthy.
- Caring – Demonstrating kind, compassionate concern for the success and well-being of others.
- Just – Standing up for the fair, dignified treatment of all others regardless of my personal affinity for them.
A Bigger Slice for Everyone
It’s counter-intuitive and increasingly counter-cultural to put the interests of others ahead of our own. It’s easy to think, “If I don’t look out for myself, who will?” But that’s short-sighted. A lifestyle of genuine care for others creates a network of people around us who in turn want to help us succeed. It’s a mindset that isn’t after a bigger piece of the pie at others’ expense; but rather seeks to make the pie bigger so everyone gets a bigger piece – including us.
At the core of good character is the recognition that we win most by helping others win.
We aren’t born with character; we develop or destroy it one choice at a time throughout our whole lives.
Alan Weisenberger launched enLumen Leadership Services to invest in the next generation of business and nonprofit leaders. With a passion to help young leaders become wise before they grow old, Alan provides coaching, mentoring, and consulting to help leaders create healthy organizations where people flourish. His background includes twenty years as VP of Technology Services with the Evangelical Christian Credit Union and eleven years with Bank of America. He currently serves on several nonprofit boards. He and his wife, Kerri, have three daughters and one son-in-law. You can contact him at alan@enLumenLS.com, or 714-981-5585. For more leadership tips, follow his leadership blog at http://www.enLumenLS.com.