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March 29, 1994

Talent Is a Gift—Character Is a Choice

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There are a lot of things in life a person doesn’t get to choose, such as where you’re born, who your parents are, and how tall you are. But there are some critical things every person does choose. We choose our faith, our attitude, and our character.

Consider this exert from Leading From the Inside Out: The Art of Self-Leadership by Samuel D. Rima:

”You cannot lead others until you have first led yourself through a struggle with opposing values. When you clarify the principles that will govern your life and the ends that you will seek, you give purpose to your daily decisions. The internal resolution of competing beliefs also leads to personal integrity. And personal integrity is essential to believability. A leader with integrity has one self, at home and at work, with family and with colleagues. He or she has a unifying set of values that guide choices of action regardless of the situation.”

Character Brings Lasting Success with People

Trust is essential when working with people. Character engenders trust. People will look past personality and brilliance and hunt down character when they are looking for a real friend or comrade. We all like to be with people who are fun and make us laugh, who are intelligent and make us think, who are inspirational and make us dream, who are confrontational and make us reflect, and who are strong and make us secure.

But all that simply melts to the street and flows down the hill unless these people have true character. What we really look for in a friend or employee are the same traits that our elementary principle is trying to teach the kids in grade school.

Character doesn’t always get rewarded in our lifetime.

So why do it, you might ask. Well, it’s really quite simple. You develop your character because it’s the right thing. When you’re living by the good, the right, and the true, you life a life of character—that’s just how it works.

Being a person of character doesn’t mean expecting applause at a company meeting or a trophy for your good works. You do it, instead, for the sense of peace you feel in doing right and treating others well. It’s how you’d want others to treat you, right?

One example of such a determination to do right stems from the sculptors of the Statue of Liberty, a story more than a hundred years old. When the craftsmen and artists who did repairs on the Lady Liberty in 1985-1986 studied the statue, they were amazed at the craftsmanship. Frederic Bartholdi and his crew who created her had taken care to finish the statue’s crown perfectly, as if everyone would see the top of her head. But 100 years ago, Bartholdi couldn’t have imagined that helicopters would hover over his creation, studying the top of the 151-foot-tall symbol of freedom. He and his crew finished the statue that way because it mattered to them that they did the good, the right, and the true thing. They couldn’t have known that anyone else would see their work, but they still did it to perfection. They were working out of their character. Now that’s an example to live by!

People Can’t Rise Above the Limitations of Their Character

There are really only three kinds of people. Those who don’t succeed, those who achieve success temporarily, and those who become and remain successful. Having character is the only way to sustain success. Need proof? Just look in the headlines. It seems that every day another executive falls victim to their lack of character—and brings down everyone in the company as a result.

But developing character isn’t a quick-fix type of thing. It’s not something you can grow through a crash-course weekend seminar when one day you realize you need some character. It’s impossible. You can’t become an astronaut, or a world-class fly fisherman, or an expert brick mason in a microwave weekend of learning. So why should character be any different?

Spend time on it. In the words of H. Jackson Brown, “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backwards, or sideways.”

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