Many use the start of a New Year to reflect on blessings, lessons learned and goals for the coming year. I propose that we all start the year with a new, or refreshed, commitment to good character.
As we look back over the past year, there are many events, milestones and achievements to celebrate – numerous tech innovations, successful company acquisitions and mergers, a positive turn in the job market, and a steadily improving economy. However, among these many high points, we’ve also seen some very low points that span the private and public sectors, affecting businesses, government and military institutions. Stories of lying, cheating, hacking, bribery, and a myriad of other unethical scandals riddled our news outlets last year. These failures lead to one question: how and why have we — as individuals, as communities, as leaders and as a nation – become so lax in upholding and demanding good character?
At both an individual and an organizational level, we need a committed and sustained effort to make a change – and to keep a strong emphasis on doing the right thing. We need to reestablish an unshakable focus on the values of honesty, trust, integrity and accountability.
Character has such a profound impact on our lives, but for many this goes unrealized. The most critical success factor for everyone is character, but unfortunately not everyone knows this or knows it’s the one thing over which we have complete control. Our individual character reflects our capacity to accept responsibility for our lives — who we are and what we will become. It dictates what we envision and how we seek to realize our vision.
Failure of character at a personal level typically creates a ripple effect — resulting in a negative influence on surrounding individuals and on entire organizations at large. An organization’s culture is founded on the integrity, quality and character of each individual who makes up that organization. Successful cultures are based on each individual’s commitment to ethics and accountability — and this concept is applicable to any organization, be it commercial, government, military, etc.
So how can each of us kick off 2015 by making a commitment (or perhaps a renewed commitment in some cases) to good character?
Here are a few thoughts:
Embrace being a role model
Many of us can probably name one or two people in our lives whom we view as role models, but we may be less quick to consider/realize that we too can be and likely are role models for others whom we have encountered along our life journey — particularly as many of us serve in leadership positions within companies and organizations that support critical missions. Because of this, we must understand the importance of each of our actions and take on personal commitments to live and lead with respect, transparency and positive empowerment.
Balance decision-making power with accountability
Another key piece to being a good role model is demonstrating the appropriate way to handle decision-making. While being in a decision-making role should not be mistaken as an opportunity to exude an exaggerated sense of power, it should also not be taken lightly. It is impossible to get through life without making complex or difficult decisions. If an individual is unable to make big decisions, that will severely hinder his or her ability to be successful, let alone be a successful role model for others. Individuals who exhibit good character view decisions as opportunities and responsibilities, and are less likely to fall victim to the pitfalls, such as inaction, consensus and snap judgments. Good character helps individuals make sound decisions and instills accountability once a decision is made.
Rely on ethics, not excuses
Related to the two points above is the topic of excuses. Excuses are self-made obstacles that prevent people from making changes, evolving and learning. It’s easy to blame others or claim negligence or ignorance, but good character means being guided by ethics and having the courage and conviction to remain accountable for your decisions and actions. While excuses may seem easier than acknowledging the truth initially, they usually exacerbate problems and interrupt or prevent any constructive action or progress from taking place.
As we embark on a new year full of promise, inspiration and hope, let us all seize this as a fresh start in making a commitment to good character. In doing so, not only will we become stronger individuals, but the concept will resonate throughout our organizations and institutions — making us collectively stronger to successfully face, and embrace, all that the future holds.