Can We Talk About Character?

Do you still get magazines in the mail? I’m down to receiving one a month, and I look forward to getting it from the mailbox, perusing and dog-earing the slick pages, and absorbing knowledge from someone who takes the time to conceive, research, and write compelling pieces. 

There’s something about taking out a pen or a highlighter that helps the content creep into that brain of mine with more endurance! 

The one “real” magazine I’m referring to is the one that ATD publishes every month for the talent development industry. This month the front cover features an article by Ryan Gottfredson and all I can say is you should read it for yourself. 

My key takeaways from this well-written and practical leadership development article are:

  1. Differentiating Between Doing Skills and Being Skills. How many smart, capable and talented leaders have you worked with who would score a zero on an emotional intelligence test? 
  2. Character Matters. Leadership Development programs tend to focus on knowledge, skills, and abilities, yet “there is relatively little focus related to helping people and leaders more effectively improve their CHARACTER and enhance their psyches.” 
  3. Remembering People are Different. “People differ in the quality and sophistication of their nervous systems.” We are all products of our environments (heavily weighted on developmental years growing up but that is another article), and until we recognize our own shortcomings and give grace to those of others, we will continue to stay in a place of judgment. 

The focus on character development is the headline that sunk in most deeply for me. Without first googling the Webster definition of the word character, I asked myself, “What is the definition of character?” (I ask myself a lot of questions.)

My off-the-cuff answer to myself: it’s traits that define a way someone behaves when no one is looking. Someone who is essentially a rational, good person through the eyes of any objective lens.  Their behavior is predictable and fair and level-headed.

That’s what I think defines “good character”. 

Relative to this context, Webster defines character as: 

2aa distinguishing feature CHARACTERISTIC

bthe group of qualities that make a person, group, or thing different from others

6moral excellence

Let’s say “moral excellence” is ambiguous and subjective at best. What if everyone defined, for themselves, what having good character is, then tried to do whatever that is? I have to believe the outcome would be positive. 

My colleagues and I have an old saying when we started doing the micro short film work we do, and I found a random coffee cup that I keep on my desk as a daily reminder to stay accountable for my own behavior. 

Let’s do some leadership development around character, and helping people define who they want to be. Can it be any more simple than, “Don’t be a ____ at work”?

Four letters. Keep it clean.