April 27, 2012 | Barb Carr

Character Really Counts

[Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted with permission from the author, Captain George Burk.  Learn more about the author on his website: www.georgeburk.com.]

Character Really Counts

Character: “a complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person, group, or nation.”

It’s great when an organization hires a new employee who possesses the skills that perfectly fit the job.  But human resource professionals and others in the organization should consider a more important factor first: character. It’s an important and has greater emphasis in an organization’s decisions when they hire new employees.

“More and more, we’re finding basic behaviors coming up in recruitment,” said Steve Heinen a principle at Mercer Resource Consulting. “How you interact with people, how much people can trust what you say and how reliable you are, those are all having a critical impact on performance.”

As it’s more difficult to train people in character issues, those become more important in the hiring process, Heinen says.  Today, more organizations have determined they can train employees in technical areas. It’s really important that employees have solid core values.

In general, people are finding various characteristics when dealing with a person’s character critical to success.  And those are the things you can’t train or develop.  Many times, they don’t show up until there is a problem.

Act Accordingly

The key here is the leader.  If a leader wants a dependable group, the leader must act accordingly and set the tone. It’s the difference between “walking the walk” and “talking the talk.” Do the leader’s actions match their words? This means a leader who believes the end justifies the means and pushes only for the bottom-line will get behavior that matches that philosophy.  That may sound acceptable but employees may well decide to cut corners or make unethical decisions or deals to get the desired results they believe the leader and, hence the organization’s culture, want and even demand. People listen to what the leader says but they watch what the leader does.

“People take their cues from the leader,” Heinen says.  “You can take otherwise honest people, and they will justify their unethical behavior or even believe it’s expected.”

The way in which organizational goals and then personal goals are met makes a big difference. If reward’s are withheld in an all-or-nothing basis, that can spell trouble.  People will then be tempted to cheat if they’re close to making the grade or achieving ‘success.’  To focus on the “bottom-line” with little or no concern for how to get there is a big mistake.

“People remember two things: who kicked them when they were down and who helped them up.”  George Burk

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden believed in the value of character.  A good leader, he said, builds belief throughout the organization in the leader’s philosophy and the group’s mission.  But it’s difficult to do if the basic core values are lacking….values like honesty, courage, and integrity.  The kind of people who only focus on the end result won’t likely commit to the hard work needed to win, Wooden wrote in his new book, “Wooden on Leadership.”

The Correct Habits

The leader can and does make a difference.   Coach Wooden recalled a time when some of his players took the team’s practice T-shirts as souvenirs to wear around campus. The shirts didn’t belong to them, but these players saw nothing wrong with wearing them outside of practice.

Coach Wooden did see a problem.  He told the players to ask him for a shirt if they wanted it, but they couldn’t just take it. “I wanted to create good habits under my leadership,” Wooden wrote.

Integrity: what you do when no one is around (or you don’t think anyone is watching.)

A leader with strong values will attract those with similar traits, he said.  It’s not unlike a moth that’s attracted to a light.

“When you bring an individual on board for whom character doesn’t count for much, you place a rotting apple in a barrel of good ones,” Wooden wrote.  “This is a terrible mistake for a leader to make.”

Does your organization have people with character or an organization filled with characters? Do people do things correctly using good habits?  The leader must become the benchmark by which other leaders are judged.

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