“What a leader does in private does matter and will ultimately establish or undermine the credibility of his or her influence.”
John Hawkins, leadership consultant
We live in an age of delusions. And some of those delusions are undermining the trustworthiness and the effectiveness of our leaders on the national level, the corporate level, and even the family level.
One of those delusions says, “It doesn’t matter what I do in my private life. It’s nobody’s business.” Well, that’s true if you want to be a nobody. But it’s not true if you want to be a leader that makes a difference in this world. As a leader, everything you do impacts others for good or bad. Everything!
It’s called character, a topic I outline in depth in my new book, “The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want out of Life and Work“.
To understand the nature of character and to release more of its power into your life and work, keep these tips in mind.
1. Character is doing what’s right when no one is watching.
You may think you can get away with a little white lie, a simple indiscretion, or a small unethical choice because no one is watching. But that’s a dangerous route to take. History tells us that the truth almost always comes out. As Helen Rowland (1875-1950), journalist and humorist wrote, “It’s easier to hide your light under a bushel than to keep your shady side dark.”
2. Character is doing what’s right when it’s not easy.
Your character is established and displayed when it becomes clear to everyone that getting ahead, financial reward, and recognition are not your gods. That the most important things in your life are not profit and popularity. That you value doing what’s right above all else.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often spoke about that. He said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
That means you have to decide ahead of time what is right and truly non-negotiable. After all, if you don’t know what you stand for, you’ll fall for anything. And the day will come when so-called progress asks you to compromise your convictions. In that moment your moral authority hangs in the balance.
Put another way: People should know what you stand for. They should also know what you won’t stand for.
3. Character is telling the truth when a lie would be easier.
George Orwell wrote about that in his book “1984,” painting a picture of what would happen to a society that wasn’t vigilant in protecting the truth. And to a large extent, we’re there today. That’s why Orwell proclaimed, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
4. Character is making sure your walk matches your talk.
You can’t say one thing and do another and expect to have character, trust, and influence. Indeed, the very definition of character includes a total congruence between who you are and what you do.
As Julia Loggins, the former wife of Kenny Loggins, wrote, “Teaching is not always about passing on what you know; it is about passing on who you are.”
Being a leader and being a person of character don’t come easily and don’t always line up. It’s in those moments, however, that you discover a great deal about yourself, and you find out what you truly stand for!
5. Character is playing by the same rules, no matter how big, important, or powerful you are.
Look around you, and you’ll see many leaders playing by a different set of rules. Intoxicated by their own success, they begin to think they’re the final authority on right and wrong. That somehow the rules no longer apply to them.
Leaders sometimes forget that it’s a lot easier to win a title than defend it with integrity. Don’t fall into that trap. It will come back to haunt to you.
6. Character is tending the fragile to maintain the powerful.
As educator Sissela Bok noted, “Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain.”
At any given time you are only one decision, one word, or one action away from destroying your character … which took you years to build. Character is fragile. Keep this in mind because the time will come when the fastest route to what you want may not be the most honorable one.
But character, handled well, is also powerful. You see, your position of leadership may cause people to take notice of you, but it is only your character that will cause people to respect you. With character comes influence. Oh sure, you can manage people without character, but you can’t lead them without it.
7. Character will determine your legacy.
When you focus solely on what you can DO, without first deciding what kind of person you should BE, you’re making a mistake. Your talent will make your name known, but your character will determine what people associate with your name. Your talent will dictate your potential, but your character will determine your legacy.
The question is … what are you doing to build, preserve, live, and work with integrity?