The More Successful You Are, The More Character Matters

Character isn’t talked about much anymore, yet it is the foundation upon which our lives are built. Our business, marriage, and friendships are all resting on the strength of our character. Weak character often isn’t revealed until it’s too late. Here are 5 ways to strengthen your character. 

What is character?

Character is who you are when no one is watching. External oversight keeps most of us in line. When we feel freedom to do as we wish, our character comes out. Leaders are often in positions beyond easy oversight and therefore have their character tested.

  • Character is not personality. My personality is direct. I can express my directness by bullying people to get my way or by engaging with people toward our mutual goal. The difference is character.
  • Character is a lot about how we treat other people. Are we humble or proud? Are we generous or grasping? Are we honoring or belittling?
  • Character is something that is built and maintained, like the foundation of a building. Character, good or bad, is built in the everyday decisions we make.

The More Successful You Are, The More Character Matters

Success challenges and reveals character. We often excuse the poor behavior of successful people. It’s an ends-justify-the-means mistake. As the following examples illustrate, as success grows, cracks can appear in the foundations of character that can topple the whole building.

In 2013, Scott Forstall, Vice President of Apple’s successful iOS division left the company. Though Apple didn’t provide details, Forstall, a Steve Jobs favorite who was viewed as the next possible Apple CEO, was asked to leave. He was hugely successful leading Apple’s iOS to become a major financial asset. But he was also said to be polarizing figure and have a fiery personality that was difficult to work with. In the end, it appears that his success was not enough to save him from his character flaws.

For me, this next story is exceptionally sad since I know people involved. Mark Driscoll, a popular pastor whom Forbes called “one of the nation’s most prominent and celebrated pastors,” resigned in 2014 at the height of his ministry. A writer for The Atlantic summed up his fall and the implosion of the megachurch he founded saying, “there was no single disgrace or crime that brought Driscoll down. Instead, it was a series of accusations: of plagiarism, crudeness, a bullying management style, unseemly consolidation of power, and squishy book-promotion ethics, to name a few.” The elders of his church saw all this, but did Driscoll and themselves no service by not reigning him in.

Don’t miss that there were no moral or criminal charges against these two leaders. It was mainly how they treated other people. Unchecked patterns of poor interactions with people appear to have unseated Forstall and Driscoll while at the top of their games.

How To Develop Your Character

The program you can take to build your character is called “life.” Character development happens on-the-job, during your daily life. Here are a few things that will help.

  1. Character develops over time. There isn’t a short-cut to developing character. It takes time. The process doesn’t seem important in the building phase. It’s a lot of little things that “don’t matter too much.” But it’s precisely these things that add up to form character.
  2. Character must be continually developed. Many leaders miss this. We get busy performing and rest on earlier character development. We fail to notice that our character foundation, while previously strong and adequate, is now too small for our new expanded responsibilities and freedoms.
  3. Character develops only with decisions and actions. What we believe about our character is irrelevant. What matters is our behavior. To become kind, humble, and giving, I must do kind, humble, and giving actions. The more I do them, the stronger these character traits will become.
  4. Character is undermined one step at a time. Just as small decisions and actions develop character, the process also works in reverse. No one has an affair in one step. It’s a series of small steps, that begin in the mind. After being nurtured there, it continues as unsteady small actions culminating in an affair.
  5. Character develops with feedback. We are easily self-deceived into thinking that our actions are justified. Having a mentor, advisor, or small group who will give you honest feedback on your behavior is essential if you want to continue to grow in character.

As our responsibilities grow, the pressure to perform and the freedom of our position tests our character in new ways.

In these times of testing, our character will be revealed. Our character foundation may show cracks or possibly crumble. Or our character foundation may hold fast, unmoved.

Like constructing a building to withstand an earthquake, the time to develop your character is long before it is tested.

Question: What practices do you use to develop character? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    One thought on “The More Successful You Are, The More Character Matters

    1. Excellent post, Keith! I am all about character and its effect in business and personal life. Character and personality are two essential components of leadership! But it needs work and there are no shortcuts (a lesson many have to learn, I think) as often try to convince some of my clients (panicking with the economic crisis in Europe). Thank you Keith for sharing such excellent insights.