The concept of character is one that doesn’t get a whole lot of airtime today, but it is absolutely critical for driving profit and productivity in any organization. Character can be defined as the combination of mental and moral qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group, or thing from another. When people in business exhibit healthy character, they attract healthy people, work healthy strategies, and produce healthy results.
I was surprised to read the comments of General Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, in January of 2013. In the past year, Mali’s army had perpetrated a series of brutal abuses, including a military coup and dozens of reported executions of civilians. Small units of U.S. and Canadian Special Forces troops had been active as trainers in Mali up until shortly before the coup, as part of a broader U.S. led counter-terrorism training program. See here.
But now the training program was under fire because of the abuses of the Malian army and the coup. “I believe that we focused exclusively on tactical and technical aspects,” General Ham said. “We didn’t spend, probably, the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and military ethos.”
The first signs of failure became clear on March 22 last year, when Mali’s recently trained officers led a military coup against the elected government. The coup leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, was himself a graduate of the U.S. training program. That was “very worrisome for us,” Gen. Ham said in a speech at Howard University in Washington. Again, the words of General Ham: “…we focused exclusively on tactical and technical aspects… We didn’t spend, probably, the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and military ethos…”
The reality is that Character matters. From a business perspective, we support the alignment of our people, and ultimately we profit, through character development. Business leaders who exhibit healthy character attract healthy people who work healthy strategies, and produce healthy results.
In my own executive career, I remember an incident that occurred several years ago. I was the business leader of a multi-million dollar business unit for a large company, and I was set into place in this particular location to reverse a stem of hundreds of thousands of dollars of losses. As I began to drill into this, I went through a checklist of items mentally to discover the source of the problem: from customer service, to marketing, to our supply chain, to inventory control. As time went on, I discovered that this business unit had been losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year because of the theft of product from one of their key delivery drivers. This driver had stolen several hundred thousand dollars a year in product for several years, and we eventually involved the police in a sting operation, and he went to jail. It was not a lack of competency or skill that cost the organization. He was a qualified driver who had the skill to perform his role. But his character was out of line with organizational objectives and business norms, and bottom-line profitability took a significant hit. The previous executive team before me also ended up looking really disengaged for not noticing, coaching, and addressing this character gap.
Character matters. From a business perspective, we support the alignment of our people, and ultimately we profit, through character development. Business leaders who exhibit healthy character attract healthy people who work healthy strategies, and produce healthy results.
The example I just shared is pretty significant because it involves losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of profit on millions of dollars of revenue. However, according to a recent survey on ethics in Canadian organizations, 42% of working Canadians have witnessed misconduct at their current employer. See here. And in the U.S., the numbers are not better. In 2011, 45% of working Americans said they had observed misconduct on the job in the previous 12 months. See here.
The data regarding the amount of misconduct occurring is startling: 28% of respondents witnessed the misuse of company property at their current employer, 25% saw harm to employees, 17% observed privacy violations, 17% were aware of fraud, 13% witnessed conflicts of interest, 9% knew about bribery or corruption, 12% observed environmental violations, and 11% had knowledge of the misrepresentation of financial results.
Abraham Lincoln said this: “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
Over 100 year later, Warren Buffet followed up with this: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
The truth is that a character gap can negatively impact your organization’s reputation and financial well-being, while a strong ethical culture and character alignment can positively impact your organization’s performance and reduce risk.
Understandably, there has been a ton of focus in business literature on culture. This is a welcome and needed focus, but at the end of the day while culture describes how an entity really operates, and reputation is how the broader public perceives it, both your culture and your reputation directly flow from your character. Over time, there are high costs associated with unhealthy culture and a negative reputation, but the character of our leaders drive both culture and reputation.
1 – Character Drives Organizational Alignment: When your employees have healthy character, they communicate well, operate in harmony with others, are team players, walk in humility, exhibit social and emotional intelligence, and add creativity and innovation to the mix.
2 – Character Drives Profit: When your employees have healthy character, they make good business decisions, practice healthy values, have a solid work ethic, and carry out their operations in honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness. This only leads to profit, as Richard Branson said: “Your brand name is only as good as your reputation.”
3 – Character Can Be Measured and Developed: Unlike our innate personality, character is something that can be accurately measured and assessed, and then cultivated and developed. You can grow solid character through training, coaching, and self-reflection.
One of the key offerings of Momentum Coaching in organizations is a proprietary psychometric profile that measures character and assesses behaviors. After measuring character and assessing behaviours, Executive Coaching and Training programs are tailored to the needs of the individual to partner with them to maximize their strengths, and mitigate their weaknesses, all the while aligning with the values and goals of the organization. Many of us are used to psychometric tools, but what Momentum Coaching does differently is build a personalized coaching and training program for each individual that supports their success and yet aligns with organizational values and objectives.
Consider utilizing the services of Momentum Coaching, to assess the character of your people or key leaders, and then building a tailored Executive Coaching and Training plan to support character development.
Character matters. Business leaders who exhibit healthy character attract healthy people who work healthy strategies, and produce healthy results. As Alan Simpson said, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”
Abe Brown is the Coach’s Coach, and is the Founder and President of Momentum Coaching, and the President of the Certified Coaches Federation. Momentum Coaching has experienced triple digit growth for several years running, and the Certified Coaches Federation has trained and certified over 10,000 Life and Executive Coaches in the last 8 years. Abe does Leadership and Executive Coaching, and works with profit-based, and non-profit organizations around strategic planning, cultivating fully engaged employees, and facilitating coaching and training programs. He has also worked with several small, medium, and large businesses to accelerate revenue growth and maximize engagement.