Character and Integrity…some thoughts on both

integrityIf you are my friend or I am your friend it is based on three things… trust, character and integrity. Things don’t always go as planned.  Believe me, I know firsthand but if we can depend on each other like family and we trust one another it makes it so much easier. I think that philosophy is true whether you are my mentor, I am your mentor, you are my coach, I am your coach or we just have a great business relationship.

All of us are not flawless.  We all make mistakes.  Sometimes we do the wrong things and each of us sometimes pays dearly when we do. I have always believed in “honesty is the best policy” not because I am of such high moral standards but perhaps a little simpler explanation.  I am a man and if I lie, I can’t necessarily remember who I lied to. Because I have caught people in lies or stretching the truth and I think it is rather embarrassing if you catch them in it I have made a habit not to lie.  Again remember, we all have flaws, we are imperfect, unfortunately God has not made the perfect human yet but all we have to sell someone else is our honesty, our character and our integrity. That is what our reputations are built upon.

Commitment is a key part of character.  One of the lessons I have taught my children, that when you make a commitment it is etched in stone.  If you say I will help you move on Saturday you had better be there Saturday helping your friend to move.  I believe your word is your bond. If you have no intent on showing up on Saturday then say that but if you commit the only thing that prevents you from living up to your commitment is death, either yours or mine.

What is character?  Webster defines it as “the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves: someone’s personality: a set of qualities that are shared by many people in a group, country, etc.: a set of qualities that make a place or thing different from other places or things.” I think that is the first thing a person sees when they look at you is your character.  Now it’s not fully exposed until you become friends but we all like to hang around with people who are like ourselves and I hope we think of ourselves as having the utmost character.

A good friend of mine, Michael Ross who wrote “Overcoming the Character Deficit—How to Restore America’s Greatness One Decision at a Time…said it best when he asks, “What happens when we lose sight of the impact of our choices?’ Everything we do in our lives have consequences and the earlier we understand that the better off we are.  How many times have we regretted what we said or more importantly what we did?

Michael says in his book “that the word character is a deviation of the Greek word charakterwhich literally means the “stamp of a coin.”  American coins feature great men like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.  Their character helped shape and set a high standard for our nation. The penny says honest, perseverant and humble. The nickel says creative, diplomatic and competent. The dime says resolve, relationships and patience. The quarter says courage, fortitude and honor.” I say isn’t this the way we all want to be described?  Isn’t this the legacy that we would all like to live? People today don’t think of their character being honest and humble or creative, diplomatic and competent or full of courage, honor and fortitude.  But what if they did?  Would this not be a much better place to live?  I am sure the Greatest Generation (described by Tom Brokaw in his writings) would all agree that those words are very important but somewhat lost in 2015. If they are less important today, why is that and how powerful might they be if we embraced those concepts today.  Would we not have fine moral character?

I mention in my first book (The Dysfunctional Organization), the vacuum of leadership in the world today.  I wrote of a story, driving through South Africa with a good friend who is a South African of British decent and we were talking of statesmen. The question came up, Are there any Great Statesmen or women in the world today? Of course, being in South Africa, my friend mentioned Nelson Mandela. Now Mandela has a checkered past especially if you talk to the white population of South Africa.  But in my humble opinion here is what is amazing about Mandela.  When F.W. DeKlerk gave up power to Mandela’s party everyone expected the worst. Everyone expected that having power in the hands of Mandela would mean the demise of the nation. Give Nelson Mandela some admiration for realizing he needed white South Africa to help transform Black South Africa and that they had to work together with the minority who had been in power for years, many times oppressively to make South Africa a great nation. His personal greed or vindictiveness for spending the best years of his life in Robben Island Prison was seldom apparent.  This wise gentleman realized that in order to set up a successful future you had to deal with the past.  You had to allow a reasonable transition and that it was better for South Africa.  See statesmen do what is right for their country, not necessarily what is right for them, either socially or politically. In that case, Mandela was a true statesman.

Who might be the others over the past fifty to one hundred years?  Maybe Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair? You can certainly throw in Roosevelt and Winston Churchill into that discussion.  Much has been written over the past few years of Roosevelt’s slyness and his moxie and at the same time his valued relationship with Churchill.  FDR knew it would be political suicide to support the UK early on in the war but Churchill was a friend and a staunch ally.  They had a pact that when Churchill needed help the most FDR would pull the string and that is exactly what happened and the world was saved from a tyrannical leader be it Hitler, Stalin or someone else….As they say the rest is history.

Now we are not great men or women like these folks but what will be our legacy?  How will we contribute to the world in albeit a smaller way but still making this world a better place to live?  It is through our character.  It is doing the right thing at the right time in the best interest of the most people. It is letting go of the natural tendencies to hold spite, be vindictive, and pay back someone who has done us wrong.  It is character…..that defines who we are.