Success and Character – Part Two
Character is the twelfth C in the twelve part series of the C’s of Success. Part two covers the organizational side of character.
Character can be considered the ultimate indicator of true success at both the individual and organizational level. Character can dramatically separate organizations and are usually a mirror image of the leadership’s character.
What is Character?
What is character? The dictionary defines character as…
The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing; moral or ethical quality; qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity; reputation, having a good repute; refers to the distinctive qualities that make one recognizable as a person differentiated from others; refers particularly to the combination of outer and inner characteristics that determine the impression that a person makes upon others.
When you get down to the real bottom-line, character is about integrity. It seems people and organizations either have it or don’t have it. The black-white comparison is due to the use of integrity – you either have it or don’t have it. Selective integrity or ethics is really not having it.
Why is character so important to success? Well, if we don’t have character, then anything goes which can be a bad thing if totally unchecked. I will give examples of unchecked character and integrity later in this post. For the time being, just remember that character is an accumulation of your beliefs and values regarding life and business. These same qualities (or no qualities) are transferred to organizations from the leaders and management of the organizations.
What is Organizational Character?
The interesting thing about organizational character is – it is a reflection of the character of the leadership of the organization. This is not complicated or complex, it is simply a reflection of the individual character at the top.
Sometimes, organizations put people at the top due to credentials or some experience factor, yet, take no time to uncover the philosophies and performance history of the individuals. There are no pure assessments that uncover the level of character a person possesses – some do come close, yet, have to be evaluated by an assessment expert. Yet, I question the amount of time taken to look into their performance history.
One of the best methods for uncovering questionable ethics is to give a really difficult case study where an easy response (correct answer is not a given). Listen to the path they take in the response, ask questions for clarification of points, and listen to their logic (and choices) and take notes. Ask questions about their most difficult situations. Ask for details (if details are not present – I question the truth at that point) and how they dealt with the situation, describe their thought process, what was important to them, what was the outcome, were they happy with the outcome and most importantly, what lesson did they learn from the situation? Here you want to hear personal responsible for learning, thoughts about how to handle future situations, how to teach others the right way to do things, and no blame game activities in their response.
The most important thing I have learned during the years as a business person, is sometimes you will not know about an individual’s true character until adversity and bad times come. People who I thought were role models caved in under the pressure of adversity and a hard times of economic downturns. This was an eye opening learning for me and my clients.
Only during adversity does the true character of a leader show up for public viewing. If they have strong character, we will only notice a minor turn in performance, yet, everybody stays focused upon getting back to growth mode or some other acceptable performance level. On the other hand, low character leaders will start blaming everyone else for the problems – taking no personal responsibility – and actively looking to “take out” others for their poor performance (justified or not). A key indicator of low organizational character issues is the number of lawsuits filed – both for and against the organization. Some of the law suits will appear personally motivated to distract attention from the poor leadership quality and on to some external reason.
In summary regarding organizational character. While it is a reflection of the leadership character, it is important to note the traits you will see from an integrity centered organization. Some of these traits are…
- High energy culture – People are excited to come to work each day and look forward to handling everything that comes their way.
- Social Awareness – The organization is concerned about the social aspects of the community. They contribute to worthy causes that also build character in others or provide basic coverage in selected areas for the uneducated or people with disabilities or people who are limited in providing for themselves.
- Decisions based upon Right – Doing the right thing is more important than profits and sales. I have seen organizations have a very bad situation arise and their first response is to do the right thing. They are more successful in the long term due to their response. The ones that blame others for the problem or claim it is really not their problem are using selective ethics and should be ready for negative consequences regarding their poor response.
- Better Talent – The high integrity organizations seem to attract better quality talent than others. Good people want an environment that is positive and supports their need for good. Sounds a little corny to some – however, it does happen.
- Less Negative Press – When the press or social media discuss the merits of a high integrity organization, they usually do so in a positive way, which brings more talent and better customers to the organizations. Interesting how this works – ads and self-promotion are not as effective.
Organizational character is all about high integrity and making good choices and decisions that reflect those values. Oh, here are some of the examples of poor character leadership and a lack of high character at the top of the organization:
- Madoff Investments – Billions in dollars lost by real people and organizations to enrich the lifestyle of an arrogant individual – Bernie Madoff. His whole life was a lie and deception.
- Stanford Investments – Another investment firm run by an individual with little character and being all about his personal image. The organization used deceptive methods at every turn – even being huge charity donors, investments in civic organizations (usually too good to be true amounts) and political donations for favorable laws and opinions.
- Enron – Wow, Ken Lay and his band of outlaws were all about short term profits – no matter who it hurt. One of the most telling comments about the organizational culture came from one of the natural gas traders who bragged in an email about how he was taking all the money from the little old “blue haired ladies” in California using price manipulation techniques.
- Worldcom – The leadership (Bernard “Bernie” Ebbers) of this multi-billion dollar organization continued to paint a rosy picture about their growth and profitability even as things were falling apart all around them. They even lied to financial types, who got them more investment funding before filling for bankruptcy – the biggest corporate bankruptcy at that time.
That’s a short list of some of the bad organizations that were lead by low integrity individuals. Unfortunately there are more that could be added to the list – both large and small organizations. Just learn lessons from the above list. Remember, people who have dealt with adversity and made excellent choices are the ones to watch for they have demonstrated the strength of their character and won.