Don’t do what you wouldn't feel comfortable reading about in the newspapers the next day!



Are you the same on the inside as the outside?

I don't know about you, but I'm just plain sick with all of the news coverage lately about this person and that person, all of high standing, who are being accused and mostly admitting to transgressions of character.

This isn't new of course, for decades, if not centuries, we have read about people of great repute who have built up a different persona for the public eye than what truly lies within. Think about the great failures of major corporations of the financial crises of 2008-2009, Jeffery Skilling and Author Anderson at Enron at the turn of the century, Bill Clinton before that and Catholic priest scandals in the 90's, Martha Stewart, Watergate...the list could go on and on.

I have to admit, sometimes when I watch these very public episodes, I think "gosh, I'm glad I'm not like them!" Yet, am I? Recently I read a report on a study done by British sociologist David Halpern who found that 76% of all employees surveyed stated that they "have observed illegal or unethical conduct on the job - conduct which, if exposed, would seriously violate the public trust" within the last 12 months. That stat is big enough it just might include you and me!

Character is the foundation of effective leadership. A hundred years ago when builders began on a new structure, they first cut and laid the cornerstone. This was a very important stone that had to be cut perfectly and laid exactly square, since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the en tire structure. If it was off, or if it had cracks it could jeopardize the quality of the entire building. Character is like our cornerstone. I really believe that the question is not why character matters, but why it does not get the attention and respect it warrants.

Here are ten cornerstone questions for you to consider. See how well you can respond to each one.

  1. How well do I treat people from whom I can gain nothing?

  2. Am I transparent with others?

  3. Do I role-play based on the person(s) I am with?

  4. Am I the same person when I'm in the spotlight as I am when I am alone?

  5. Do I quickly admit wrongdoing without being pressed to do so?

  6. Do I put other people ahead of my personal agenda?

  7. Do I have an unchanging standard of moral decisions, or do circumstances determine my choices?

  8. Do I make difficult decisions, even when they have a personal cost to them?

  9. When I have something to say about people, do I talk to them or about them?

  10. Am I accountable to at least one other person for what I think, say and do?

If you are like me and find yourself not answering each of these questions as confidently as you'd like, may I provide four suggestions on how to strengthen your character?

#1 - Employ Honesty.

One of the realities of life is that if you can't t rust a person at all points, you can't truly trust him or her at any point. Ethical principles are not flexible. A little white lie is still a lie. Theft is theft, whether it's $1.00, $1,000.00 or $1,000,000.00. Decide right here and now to be a person of honesty. Commit yourself to honesty over personal gain, to people over things, to service over power, to the long view over the immediate.

#2 - Be Authentic.

I once read in Patick Lencioni's book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, that politics is when people choose their words and actions based upon how they want others to react, rather than based upon what they really think. I have also found through personal experience that the more authentic we are the more rapidly we can build and establish trust. For example, when I first started out as the junior high principal I put up this facade that I knew all the answers and could do everything for everyone. After about a year and a half, everything came crashing down. I then humbled myself, gathered my staff and admitted my weaknesses. Two things came from this meeting....first, the only person I was fooling was myself as everyone could already see my weaknesses and second, the staff saw me as human and instantly started to build a greater degree of trust with me. Be yourself for "No man wears one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one." (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

#3 - Do the Right Thing Even if its the Hard Thing.

A time will come in every leader's life when he or she will be tested beyond the limit---a time when business pressure, intellectual logic and fear gang up and force the person to choose the easier wrong decision over the tougher right decision. These are times when we must have the courage and be willing to take a leap of faith. Recently I was asked during the Q and A portion of a presentation, "Do you give critical feedback to your boss?" This lead to a lively discussion, which concluded in the affirmative...helping people learn and grow is the right thing, even it it may lead to negative personal consequences.

#4 - Fulfill Your Promises.

I once read of a dynamic leader who became the fifth CEO of a company in five years. Trust was non-existent in this organization and he knew it. He first went around to all of the different employee groups to listen and observe what each struggled with. Then he produced a list of 14 things that he promised he was going to take care of in the next six months and he send this via email to every employee. I can imagine what most were thinking..."Oh, here goes another one, making promises which won't be delivered." Six months later, he wrote another email detailing how he had met 12 of his promises and explaining how he was still working on the final two. Needless to say, he got the trust of this company. I love how John Maxwell says it, "Your talk talks, and your walk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks." This is so true. Pay very close attention to everything you say "I will" to and make sure you complete the task.

Of course, we could go on and on about the many different ways to strengthen our character, but I believe that we all could find a place to improve in through these four suggestions. I have found that the best way to improve my character is to choose one area (perhaps from the 10 questions above or the four suggestions) and determine to be excellent in this area for the next 30 days. Buy a journal and hold yourself accountable as you reflect every day. Tell at least one other person what you are trying to do and have them follow up with you weekly and soon you'll find that what you are on the outside really is a reflection of what is on the inside.


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