I know, I’ve heard it a hundred times: character is what we do when no one else is looking, right? Maybe not. Maybe character is what we do when everyone is looking.
The other day I sent a note to a work mate reminding her how good she was. That’s right: I actually send notes to tell people good stuff for no reason. You should try it some time. It’s wicked good.
My peer responded with deflection – how hard it is for most of us to accept kudos – something like, ‘how can you say that after Project X flubbed?‘
Without delay I answered simply: character is not revealed when everything is going well, but precisely when it is not. My friend has character. She worked through the issue she was referencing. She did good work before it came up, during and after. I have every right to give her plaudits. She earned them.
Think about that for a moment. Ae you a fair-weather colleague? Happy when things are going well and willing to be collaborative and supportive just as long as projects are up to speed and expectations are being met? If so, I’m not sure I want you on my team.
Its easy to be supportive when the conditions are right and the resistance is light: but I want character. Tenacity. Discipline. The willingness to do a good job because a job is worth doing well despite the odds. The maniacal focus on details à la Steve Jobs on parts the customer might never see. The strength to be ostracized by insisting on doing right and acting right – especially when everyone is watching.
Bill Courtney likes to say football doesn’t build character, it reveals it. I agree. When problems arise and new solutions need to be applied we rely inevitably and ultimately on people of character. People who shrink from challenge never lead us to answers. Character is not what you do when no one is watching, its exactly what you do when everyone is watching. Its how you treat co-workers when problems are materializing faster than answers. How you handle your boss when her criticism is justified. How you respond to the team when they share the feedback with you you didn’t want to hear.
Tough times reveal character. They don’t build it.
There is good news: your character is like a muscle that has to be exercised routinely to avoid atrophy. Get out of bed and work that character out today. Have the character to take an opinion, a view, a perspective, and the strength to share it until new facts change your understanding of business and the world.
Character is sorely in need in this world of ours.
Use yours today.