How Do We Define Character?
A person’s character has two primary components. One side of character is integrity. Integrity is being the same in thoughts, words, and actions. One’s message and life tell the same story. Hypocrisy kills the message. Had Martin Luther King Jr. preached passivism and yet carried a gun, his message would have been muted. The reason why integrity is only half of the definition of character is because we have people like Adolph Hitler fitting the description of integrity. Hitler had tremendous consistency of character. But most of us would agree that he did not act with high morals.
The second side of character is having high morals by which to live. Even around the globe, most people share a fundamental sense of right and wrong. While it is true that people have differing views on what makes someone a good person, it is not hard to imagine that deceit, arrogance, and selfish ways lead to both career and self-destruction. Those who live according to a strong moral compass enjoy the trust and admiration of those around them, paving the way to success. High morals are hard to teach in an organization, and they are even harder to screen for in an interview. Still, strong ethical leaders can inspire moral character. And by establishing a culture of integrity, those with high morals will be drawn to the organization.
Both integrity and good morals join together to form character, a necessary ingredient for The Trust Edge. Like any element of trust, character takes time, intentionality, selflessness, and discipline. We all know that one can get to the top on talent, but only find continued success there because of character. This happens in sports all the time. A great player finds himself a short career because of character deficiencies.
Tony Simmons, Ph.D. of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, found a significant link between trusted integrity and profits. He researched staff at 76 hotels using a 1-5 scale survey. The study showed an increase of just 1/8th of a point on the issue of Behavioral Integrity can result in the increase of profits by 2.5%. That means a normal hotel increased profits by more than $250,000 per year by having a hotel staff with only slightly higher character. According to Dr. Simmons, organizations that conduct training on integrity maximize profits and earn a lasting competitive advantage.
Doing what one says is essential to building trust. Great leaders keep their word and take responsibility. They do what is right over what is easy. M.E. Greer, President of the American Society of Safety Engineers points out, “We can never rise above the limitations of our character,” and “If we are going to serve as leaders, then we must have the trust of our followers. Character enables trust to exist and makes being a leader possible.” If a person cannot be trusted, who will follow them?