Character – Does it Matter Anymore?
by Stephen Ingalls, President & CEO
It’s almost to that point – where I brace when opening Facebook to see what’s splattered all over my wall or am quick to close news pages or turn off the television news due to the incessant negative headlines. It’s (character) in my face and definitely on my mind.
On my mind because that same non-profit mentioned in an earlier post prides itself on building young Americans into contributing citizens of character. That’s the sell, but based on what I see, read, and hear, is anyone buying?
In 1978, I was fortunate to be appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, and from which, I was graduated in 1982. True, you too can point to headlines where the Academy and its cadets have fallen short of the line, but it’s often noteworthy for that very circumstance. There’s an expectation – that West Pointers will not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate any who do. We learned it, then we lived it, and I try still to live it in everything I do (I also fall short, and am required to work on character every day – it’s not a muscle you build and then keep forever). Still in my teenage years, we were taught that true character is revealed in our thoughts, words, and deeds when no one is looking.
Avoiding politics for the moment (that’s a tall order), let’s consider a headline or two from today…
- From Forbes – Billionaires Elaine Wynn and Sheryl Sandberg Pledge $1 Million Each to Planned Parenthood. Ok, so a little politics. I don’t personally know either Mrs. Wynn or Mrs. Sandberg, and don’t propose a debate on Planned Parenthood or abortion rights here, but I do know that each of these women publicly voted with their wallets to do something they believed in, and because they did so publicly, demonstrated their values in a way that invited criticism. It was a risk they might have avoided by donating anonymously (“when no one is looking”). We know where they stand and have some insight to their values. Bravo ladies. You demonstrated some character.
- Also from Forbes – Do I Have to Include Every Job on my Resume? This is a debate about how much we should reveal to prospective employers about our past work history. The brief article is structured a bit like a Dear Abby column – question from the universe and response from the expert. The expert, whose name I’ll leave out of it for now (you can certainly go read this for yourself), recommends that you pick and choose what to share and what not to share, and that you might even pursue a consulting business on the side so that you can claim continued employment even during period of part-time employment, regardless of the engagement level (5 or 50 hours, the article says). Now, that bothers me. I get it…resumes are marketing documents, but doesn’t the half truth there suggest an integrity issue (and a lack of character)? Would you hire that person?
- From CNN – Twitter Roast Golden State Warriors for All-Star Photo Shoot. It starts out harmlessly enough, with marquis players participating in individual photo shoots. But…here comes the Twitter universe, responding with unflattering memes and doctored photographs of these players that highlight some of the moments when they may have demonstrated less than admirable character. Well…no one’s looking (at the Tweeters) are they? It’s become a favorite past time on social media. I see character issues there (in specific and in general) in bundles.
I could go on, but I won’t. By the way…I read the New York Times today (online), but couldn’t find too many apolitical stories above the fold. You’re welcome.
Individuals are, in large part, defined as leaders by the character they demonstrate – first and foremost. Again, as a proud member of the human race, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve violated my own values from time to time. I’m mindful of those missteps and working on it. But, saying one thing and doing/thinking/saying another when no one is looking is a problem for me. Increasingly, I feel like I’m in the minority, and it’s on my mind.
At the risk of stating the obvious, leaders of character are more important now than ever in our society. Will we invest the time to develop and sustain our own character first, and then pass along that gift to others as leaders in our organizations? For God’s sake – I sure hope so. Character matters.