Friday, March 11, 2011

Character Tilt

Personal character is the foundation of leadership choices, accountability, and impact.  If we were only perfect, our responses to all situations would match our excellent character and our choices, and our decisions would be consistently positive. 

Unfortunately, we cannot count on ourselves to be perfect or for our optimal character to shine forth in all situations.  There are many variables that pull at our character - constant tests to see who we really are and how we will react in various situations. However, every leader must understand who they are and how they act when fearful or greedy, because fear and greed can cause a leader's moral compass to tilt away from true north.

Fear triggers survival mechanisms in our minds and bodies.  We become different people; sometimes this is good - sometimes this is bad.  Greed also triggers changes that are related to our personal definitions of survival.  Everyone is capable of feeling fear and greed.  As a leader, your goal is to understand what situations, people, opportunities, places, etc ... trigger the feeling of a threat or of a golden opportunity, which cloud your judgement and change who you are as a leader.

Two examples of Leadership under duress -

Jim Tressel is the head football coach for Ohio State University.  He has written books that stress integrity and character as central themes.  Tressel lied about his knowledge of a serious violation by his players.  When confronted with evidence that he had been alerted to the violation, Tressel responded, "I knew the situation was serious, but I didn't know where to go with the information."

Jim Tressel is a good man, a good coach, and has had a tremendous positive impact as a leader.  Under duress, he did not show the strength of character he possesses.  All leaders will be faced with similar tests.  Are you facing one at the moment?

Mike Rice, head coach of Rutgers basketball team, faced a press conference after a bizarre ending in which all three officials clearly made multiple mistakes which did not allow Rutgers a chance to tie or win the game.  Rice's reaction was pleasantly surprising.  "Yes, they made a mistake, we made mistakes today.  I made mistakes, my players made mistakes and my staff made mistakes.  Those are great referees; everybody makes mistakes - that wasn't the reason we lost the game."  Mike Rice was a model of how to handle adversity.  His character shined through.

Take a minute to think about when your character tilts in a direction that is unacceptable to you.  If you really know who you are and who you can become in good times and bad, you have the opportunity to make different leadership choices.

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