Business Growth: Developing the Best Quality in People

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Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor. Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.

An interviewer asked John Pepper, the former CEO of Proctor and Gamble, what was the most important quality he looked for when hiring new employees. Was it leadership, analytical ability, collaborative thinking, problem solving techniques or something else? Pepper did not hesitate for a second in answering.

"Character," he said. "All the rest we can teach them after they get here." While his comments are very appropriate in today's hiring climate, a case could easily be made that they should apply for all time. When asked a similar question about the hiring process, Bill Hybels, author of Courageous Leadership, stated "my selection process is based on the 'three Cs': first character, then competence, and finally chemistry with me and the rest of the team."

 In what is fast becoming a landmark study on leadership principles, Fred Kiel and his colleagues of KRW International, attempted to measure various human traits. Among those traits was character. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review provided some great guidance on framing the term character and how it can be measured.

Character can be defined as what you are deep inside, whereas reputation is what others think of you. Both terms are highly subjective and difficult to quantify. Kiel and his team, however, attempted to provide some definition to the meaning of character.

They analyzed five hundred behaviors and characteristics that were developed by anthropologist Donald Brown. These behaviors and characteristics are supposed to be exhibited in all human societies. From that list of five hundred, they identified four ‘moral principles- integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion’.

The study revealed a spectrum of behavior for character. One end of the spectrum was represented by "virtuoso CEOs," as Kiel would call them. They were consistently ranked high by their employees on all four of the moral principles. In other words, strong character was exhibited by "standing up for what's right, expressing concern for the common good, letting go of mistakes (their own and others') and showing empathy."

On the other end of the CEO spectrum were the "self-focused CEOs." Kiel describes them as people who were "warping the truth for personal gain and caring mostly about themselves and their own financial security, no matter the cost to others." Upon further study, he interviewed the participants and asked for more penetrating responses. He had no trouble in getting them. Survey respondents said "the self-focused CEOs told the truth 'slightly more than half the time,' couldn't be trusted to keep promises, often passed the blame to others, frequently punished well intentioned people for making mistakes, and were especially bad at caring for people." Most everyone would agree, these are not good qualities for a leader in an organization.

The results of the study beg the question, are the self-focused leaders aware of their character flaws? Interestingly enough, Kiel says "no- they're pretty deluded." The self-focused leaders consistently ranked themselves above the rankings of their employees, implying more conceit and denial, while the virtuoso CEOs consistently ranked themselves below the character rankings of their staff, indicating humility and the acceptance of their many foibles.

Once again, the issue of communication, or lack of communication, arises. The conceited leader needs to be made aware of being blind to their weaknesses while the humble leader needs to continue to be encouraged and supported as much as possible. Kiel suggests leaders seek "guidance from trusted mentors and advisers." 

As many political candidates step up to the podium in a major election year, extolling their many positive attributes, conveying their experience and unsurpassed abilities, maybe the 'diamond in the rough,' so to speak, has yet to be discovered and polished in the form of their 'character.' Author Leo Tolstoy wrote about Abraham Lincoln and his character this way, "Why was Lincoln so great that he overshadows all the other national heroes? He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Washington; he was not such a skillful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character."

While most of us will never be on the national stage, we most certainly will have an opportunity to convey our character. How will you and your company fit in the spectrum of things as they relate to character? Do you have character or are you one? In order to grow your company, you had better be the former and not the latter.

Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.

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