Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Good Character At Work - How Do You Measure Up?


"Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing."

Abraham Lincoln,16th U.S President.

You know them when you see them.

The people who have good character speak convincingly from a place of truth. They  walk about with quiet confidence because their  moral compasses are so in sync with their core values that they are straight arrows - their words are their bonds. They may not be perfect but you know instinctively that they can be trusted. Although sometimes they prefer to work behind the scenes, they are vocal about injustice even if they stand alone.

In corporateville, a good character heralds you into the corridors of opportunity; it also enhances your skills. Because it's such a deep component of your values, influenced by your upbringing and honed over time, it can't be bought. A good character makes you unique, yet keeps you grounded since your overriding concern is  to provide value - in your role, to your colleagues and to your organisation.

People of good character display specific traits:

1) They demonstrate a high degree of integrity...

In words and in deeds. This means that they say what they mean and follow through on promises they make.

They are reliable, honest and trustworthy.

When you need the unadulterated truth, stripped of all the 'political correctness' and popularly accepted norms, they are the only ones who would stick to fairness, even if it loses them allies at the workplace or costs them dearly in promotions and perks.

They may run the risk of being made scapegoats by some of the power-obsessed big shots because they neither consent to unethical practices nor condone cover-ups. Yet, when a crisis breaks, they're often vindicated by their resolve because their good character cannot be maligned.

They are rare in today's corporate jungle but again, you'd know them when you meet them.

So how well do you measure up if pitted against their consistent display of integrity, fairness and reliability?

Food for thought.

2) They prioritise simple, brief and clear communication

In speech and in writing, they practise the three beacons of effective communication: simplicity, brevity and clarity.

Their speeches and presentations are short, easy to understand, and highlight strong, clear calls-to-action. The result is that their audiences are equipped with information on how to proceed.

Their written communication is concise, convincing and inspiring.

When representing the organisation in public, their nonverbal cues and poise elicit credibility. They don't appear 'shifty' and they don't shy away from tough questions because the truth is their best defence.

Thus, you believe them when they speak and are won over when they write.

But realise that they became effective communicators with practice and discipline. And those build character.

3) They are selfless

By far the most difficult behaviour to consistently demonstrate is selflessness.

Because people of good character are comfortable in their own skins, they tend to cherish community over individuality and prioritise the common good. So they  willingly perform in the background, or go out of their way to save jobs, even if it means requesting for pay cuts or forfeiting entitlements. They are also generous with their time and inputs.

When working in teams, they wouldn't toot their horns, nor announce to all who care to listen how their actions saved the company millions, or how they signed up the biggest accounts.

They are even uncomfortable with praise from their peers or management because they view their contributions to the organisation as their duty. Such loyalty is of course incomprehensible to other professionals in the cutthroat environment of corporateville.

Yes, these people by their words and actions challenge us to become better human beings at work, even while we aspire to greater heights professionally.

Will we allow ourselves to be so inspired?


People of good character aren't fictional beings who are morally superior to us that we needn't bother to improve.

No, they are regular people who for whatever reasons, decided to form certain habits. Through discipline, and despite numerous challenges, they coaxed those habits and consistently practised them until those traits became second nature.

Good character which  was priceless in Abraham Lincoln's era, is still invaluable today. As echoed by the beloved statesman, it is the 'real thing'; it is not the attractive sheen of a reputation.

Good character separates you from the pack and announces you from afar. At work, it communicates your values and increases your influencing skills. It also helps you champion that which is dear to you and gets you results because people trust you.

So how do you measure up at work? What other traits do people of good character display? Kindly post your comments below. 

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N.B: First image courtesy of Pat138241; via freedigitalphotos.net. Second and fourth images courtesy of Stuart Miles; via freedigitalphotos.net. Third image courtesy of  Iosphere; via freedigitalphotos.net. Last image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan.


  1. Bert Robinson (via Harvard Business Review group on LinkedIn)2 February 2017 at 10:19

    Character is like a tree? In reality character is more like a very rare phenomenon that we have heard about, but frequently rarely ever see. These days many people speak convincingly, but unfortunately not truthfully. Not long ago a man's word was as good as a contract. Unfortunately today such is no longer true. That is why we have a nation of lawyers writing contracts.

    1. Alas Bert, true character is rare. But I hope you would have met at least one person in your career who restored your faith in humanity. I have met a couple.

  2. Kemi Olaiya (via Google+)2 February 2017 at 10:31



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