The Character Conundrum

In business it’s rare to discuss character. It’s not tangible. It holds no cash value. It plays no part in budgetary meetings. It’s not bantered around at board meetings when discussing clients and suppliers. It’s not sexy like “scaling” the business. It’s not looked for in job interviews. It’s just not there – anymore. Character used to be a foundation of business. It’s the reason business was done with a handshake and not a twenty page operating agreement. Being a native Texan, it’s the reason Texans wanted to know you and your family before doing business with you. Character used to be a reigning principle of business.

It’s interesting that character is removed from so many business conversations; but, when we see the lack of it, character becomes a strong and fiery conversation. Over time in search of profits and shoring up the bottom line we have moved away from character as a business principle. We have removed it from HR when hiring – placing better stock in work experience, your college degree and HR data analytics, we have removed it from marketing – replacing it with automation and data and we have removed it from company culture – replacing it with quarterly sales goals and hustle. In reality, we have removed character from pretty much every aspect of business. Want an example? When was the last time you made a business decision based solely on the character of a person and not their intrinsic worth to you or your business.

What is character – true character? Some would say character is different from person to person and it’s as individual as the individual. That’s a wonderful theory; but, it would mean that character is not a foundational principle then – instead, it’s a moving target. As far back as time goes certain traits have been known to make up the principle of character and I’ve listed a number of them below.

Righteous – morally sound and virtuous

Good – kind and generous

Love – to hold others interests above their own without reward

Mercy – compassion, empathy and forgiveness

Grace – one that gives credit of others

Faithful and loyalty – to pledge steadfast duty and obligation and live up to their word

Truth – living through sincerity and honesty

Justice – fairness, equity and lawful abiding

Honor – respectful, living by integrity

How to spot character – In today’s chameleon world of social media and the “me-centric” mentality, it has become harder to spot character. I’ve thought long and hard about this, as I myself have been bamboozled by people I thought were character driven. First, actions over time speak louder than words. Second, close associations that a person has reflect importantly on a person’s character. Third, understanding a person’s true motivations (over time) define a person’s character.

Why we deny character as a business principle – It’s human nature to move away from things that show our own inner frailties and character is one of those forces we desire to replace with something else. When we work off character as a foundational principle, we hold ourselves and others to a higher standard than the status quo we are use to. Character makes decisions slower and sometimes harder because it forces us to think deeper about our business and business relationships beyond “scale,” the bottom line and individual motivations. What would your business look like today if every decision was made based on the character of the people or businesses you associated with versus strictly the bottom line? Would you be happier? Would you have greater efficiencies? Would your partnerships and relationships be stronger? Would doubt, worry and concern be alleviated a bit?

Why character is important in every business decision – Even though character may force us to evaluate our own individual motivations, may test our previous beliefs and may move us slower in our decision making process, character guides us to make better decisions. Decisions based on character allow us to be free from choosing things that do not match the “true character” traits. Decisions based on character provide us pure motivations – we are working off foundational principles not solely business principles (or worse yet, emotion). It makes our lives as business owners and operators easier. It holds all parties accountable to a higher standard. Imagine working with your clients / customers based on delivering character driven services or products versus only looking at the bottom line profit margin, the time spent on a project, etc. I understand business needs must be met and not every character driven person is a fit for your business; but, I will bet there is a character driven person out there that is.

What I find fascinating is how business mirrors our personal lives. As with business, we are seeing a breakdown of character across society. Character is being removed from our schools, family units, governmental leadership and in almost all facets of our lives. It’s time we take a stand and bring character back to the forefront both in business and in society. It’s time to be proactive in teaching and holding people accountable for their character.


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