[Excerpt from The Culture Question]
It’s often said that an organization’s people are its most valuable resources. Though it is well understood that a key role of a good leader is helping employees develop their skills, we often overlook the importance of character development for both leaders and employees.
We all want to be good at what we do, and it is equally important to be surrounded by competent coworkers. Highly skilled people can do amazing things. But skills are like tools in the hands of a builder – the builder’s intentions make all the difference in how they complete the job. A builder can use their tools to construct something well, or they can choose to cut corners to finish a job quickly. In a similar way, a leader who is a highly skilled communicator may choose to present all the information, or they can emphasize only those things that support their view. Character makes all the difference.
People of character are those who live their values in ways that strengthen the communities they’re a part of, act selflessly, and are accountable for what they do. When our coworkers and employees have strength of character, we trust them because we know they will make principled decisions in both the good times and the bad.
Character development begins by surrounding ourselves with people whose values and behaviors we trust. When we are surrounded by people of admirable character, we strive to live up to their values. We are also more likely to receive honest and effective feedback when we do make mistakes. In a way, they hold up “mirrors” in which we can see ourselves more clearly, allowing us to consider whether our actions line up with how we wish to be seen.
Just as people have character, so do organizations. The character of an organization is intimately connected to the character of the individuals who work there. If we care about the character of our workplace, we must care about the character of each person we hire. Our candidates should be able to act in ways that are congruent with our stated organizational values.
As leaders at ACHIEVE, we measure our individual and collective actions on a daily basis against the values we have identified as an organization. For instance, we believe that people ought to be treated in ways that they find respectful. When facing a dilemma with a client, we first ask ourselves what would be best for the client, not how we can resolve the situation cheaply or efficiently. Ultimately, developing character means developing the capacity to make consistent, values-based decisions, which creates trust both within and outside the organization.
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