Mind your character

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

John Wooden

The online etymological dictionary defines character as follows:

“The meaning of Greek kharakter was extended in Hellenistic times by metaphor to “a defining quality, individual feature.” In English, the meaning “sum of qualities that define a person or thing and distinguish it from another” is from 1640s.”

According to online sources, John Wooden (evidently a man of strong character himself) noted, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

I’ve been pondering this since the Australian cricket team were caught cheating and Steve Smith’s initial (and in my humble opinion) arrogant statement that “I won’t be considering stepping down. I still think I’m the right person for the job.

For me this was a defining moment in Smith’s career since his response was clearly ego-driven and removed from any sense of personal responsibility or accountability within his so called ‘leadership’ group.

Two days later, Smith resigned.

Then I read Jaimie Fuller’s full-page ad to the Australian Cricket Board, calling them to account for their leadership (or lack thereof) during the pay dispute, followed by the ball-tampering debacle, with Mr Fuller reminding the ACB that the sport of cricket was not theirs and theirs alone, but a sport chosen by many across Australia, especially our young. He clearly points to a lack of leadership at the Board level and asks them what they’re going to do about it.

Hot on the heels of this came the banking Royal Commission with some spectacular disclosures into an utter and complete disregard for the very people whom they were supposed to serve, followed by the resignation of Catherine Brenner yesterday and the AMP Board deciding to take a 25% pay cut.

Does this mean they didn’t know what was going on (not a good look) or have they been caught with their hand in the cookie jar?

I’m sure that as this gathers more momentum there will be further disclosure of what can only be described as atrocious and dysfunctional behaviour, and a culture where basic moral and ethical standards left the building with Elvis.

And then we have the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, where those in positions of trust, violated the very vulnerable people they were supposed to be protecting.

If we take the time to look around, unfortunately, lack of character is everywhere.

At a leadership retreat in Oct 2017 I had the good fortune to meet John Mattone, one of the best speakers, teachers and leadership coaches I’ve ever met. His assertion that the world is bereft of competent, solid and aware leaders, really struck a chord with me.

I’m in the middle of his book Intelligent Leadership and his model of inner- and outer-core competencies, where character is such a key component, has provided me with a deeper understanding of how situations like the above can evolve.

Simply, traits such as avarice, selfishness, competition, apathy, greed, insensitivity, indifference … can only thrive if the surrounding culture allows them to and the individual is lacking sufficient character to keep them in check.

As Ryan Holiday so aptly wrote, Ego Is The Enemy.

Leaders set the culture, culture attracts the team, the team services the customers, so ultimately, we get the customers we deserve.

As consumers, we experience this all too often as a complete lack of customer-service focus, which frankly ruffles my feathers big time, simply because it’s completely unnecessary.

Having just navigated Optus’ ‘customer-service’ (an oxymoron) for 3 months to simply get a direct debit in place for my business, I’ve experienced one of the most broken and frustrating customer experiences EVER.

Leadership starts with each and every one of us and as one of my mentors, Kerwin Rae, states, “Leadership isn’t a title, it’s a behaviour.”

Jaimie Fuller didn’t accept the ACB’s lack of leadership and was courageous enough to put his email address in his full-page ad, so I emailed to congratulate him for demonstrating leadership at the highest level.

What was even more surprising was that I received a reply the next day, thanking me for taking the time to read his ad and my words of support for his initiative.

Look around your school, your workplace, your business, your sports team, your government representatives, your service organisations, your financial institutions … anywhere where interpersonal interactions take place … and take a moment to reflect on the level of leadership you experience.

Acknowledge those that demonstrate ‘good character’ – empathy, understanding, compassion, kindness, willingness to listen, empowerment, cooperation, confidence, care and competence – as they’re all the hallmarks of effective leadership.

Give a wide berth to those that are clearly operating from ego, disinterest, “it’s not my job”, I-don’t-give-a-crap mentality, as these are the signs of dysfunctional cultures where leadership is evidently non-existent and the importance of human connection is not part of their cultural values. Use the power of social media to apply social pressure to call out their broken culture and processes, or let them go the way of the dinosaurs.

As David Hurley so eloquently stated, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

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