Character is one of the core fundamentals of a leader when building trust. Here’s a great example: A gentleman in one of our workshops recently shared an old Indian saying: “If you lose wealth, you lose nothing. If you lose health, you lose something. If you lose character, you lose everything.” So true. In the grand scheme of things, wealth can be rebuilt and health can often be recaptured. But if one loses their character, that is a loss infinitely more significant. Character is a competency that you have to master if you want to build trust among your peers, your subordinates, and your supervisors.
The definition we use for character is a simple one, yet it is challenging to execute for many people—do what you say you’re going to do. As the t-shirt at the mall says, “It’s not rocket surgery,” but countless people seem to struggle following through on their commitments. This is all about alignment between words and action. Trust occurs when people have confidence in your integrity and motives. Many people are familiar with the phrase that character is what you do when no one is watching. Just as importantly, it’s what you do when everyone is watching.
The word character is from a Greek word that means “to stamp or engrave.” Through repeated action over time, you stamp habits into your life. You engrave your life with a pattern of thinking and behaving. You develop the habits of the heart which become your character. You are what you repeatedly do.
If you’ve ever worked with someone who says one thing, but does something else, you know how frustrating it can be. And frustration is only the beginning. It grows quickly beyond a minor irritation to a major trust-eroding issue. If you have to constantly manage the gap between someone’s words and action, it takes little time before trust is completely lost.
On the other hand, the individual who consistently follows through on their commitments is someone who can be trusted. This person can be counted on when the chips are down. They are reliable. That’s a great word to break down. “Re” simply means again and again. “Liable” is actually a legal term that means responsible. Therefore, a person we perceive as reliable has proven over time that they are responsible. They’ve earned our trust. It’s reassuring to hand someone an assignment and know that it will be done with excellence in a timely manner. This type of dependability is at the very core of one’s character.
There are six elements to developing Character:
- Be Clear
Know what you believe and what you stand for. Don’t leave anything to chance. “Core” is from a Latin word that means heart. Therefore, your core beliefs are those held close to your heart. Identify these and be able to articulate them with exceptional clarity to the people around you. There’s great power in knowing who you are and what you believe in.
- Be Intentional
Use your core values to guide the way you respond to events at work and at life. Effective leaders are walking through life with intentional purpose while many others are impulsive and act on default.
- Be Accountable
Have someone in your life, professionally and personally, who will hold you accountable and tell you the truth in love. Before a leader can hold anyone else accountable, it must start with self.
- Be a Great Follower
If you do not know how to follow, you will not know how to lead. There are lessons in “followship” that cannot be learned any other way.
- Be Humble
Great leaders are humble and they place others at the center of attention. They are quick to do two things—accept blame on behalf of the team and deflect praise back to the team.
- Be the Example
You cannot lead people to a place you are not willing to go. And be clear and purposeful about the example you set. Don’t expect someone to automatically “get it” without directional leadership. If it’s not happening in you, it can’t possibly happen through you.
Character is the cornerstone of building trust. Without the ability and willingness to constantly do the things you say you’ll do—to follow through, follow up, continually move toward the finish line—it’s impossible to be perceived as a person of high character. Character is fundamental to finding both success and happiness. The individual who masters the fundamentals, wins.
Talent is a gift. Character is a choice.
Are you a person who consistently does what you say you’ll do? Do your words and actions align? Are you a person of character?