“Is it right because the gods love it? Or do the gods love it because it is right? -- Plato, 5th century B.C.
If we’re going to be good managers, and good people, it seems to me that our character ought to include the virtues of honor and integrity. As with other relationships, good managers are people whom employees can trust and respect, even when they disagree. The English poet Richard Lovelace pointed out this principle when he wrote, “I could not love thee, Dear, so much, loved I not honour more.” Lovelace made it clear that we cannot establish pure, genuine and lasting relationships with employees, business associates and friends unless we do so on the basis of good character. Every decision we make, every business deal we enter, every relationship we have, ought to be determined on the basis of good character. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus had the same idea when, in the 6th century B.C., he taught that, “A person’s character is his fate,” meaning that the way we live our lives and the choices we make in large measure determine the outcome of our lives.
WHAT IS CHARACTER?
“Character” is that inner quality of a person that is composed of basic human and societal values and that determines how he or she behaves in a given situation. Aristotle defined character as how a person acts when no one is looking. Thus, one’s character can be either good or bad. The ancient Greeks had a developed concept of character, holding that a person will act in concert with his character most of the time and, if you can determine a person’s character, you can predict how that person will act, most of the time – not in every case, but most of the time. Thus, a liar will lie, a deceiver will deceive, a brave man will be courageous, an honorable person will act honorably.
WHAT MAKES FOR GOOD CHARACTER?
In addition to honor and integrity, another critical element of character is loyalty -- loyalty to employees, family, friends and business associates. If we achieve some degree of success in life, we do so on a foundation built by others, including employees, parents, friends, co-workers and previous employers. Most of us would not be successful today without the opportunities others have provided for us. John Donne, poet and Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, wrote these words in 1624 -- “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Since loyalty is a precious virtue and a critical element of one’s character, one should always respect, appreciate and recognize one’s debt to others.
Having good character means being dependable, reliable and consistent. Our employees, friends and business associates must know they can count on us, whether the going is tough or easy. We will be there, we will be strong, and they can depend on us to the end. Having the values of honor and integrity as a part of one’s character means keeping your word. If you tell a person you’re going to do something, you do it -- even if the circumstances change, even if it means you lose money and even if it hurts.
Good character also includes making business and employment decisions based on factors other than money, such as loyalty, consideration of others, appreciation of the contributions of employees and staff, and quality of life. For example, the remorseless pursuit of greed by many professional athletes makes most of us recoil and may be backfiring on professional athletics in general. One shudders when hearing sports commentators say, “You would do the same thing if you were in their shoes.” Actually, this is a pretty good question -- would we do the same thing? The answer will reveal a good deal about our character. Someone once said, “Sports doesn’t develop character; sports reveals it.” In sports, in business, in relationships, good character often calls us to consider the idea that some things are more important than money.
IT OUGHT NOT TO BE HARD TO DO.
The ancient Greeks believed that we can understand a concept better if we understand its opposite. The opposites of honor and integrity are not neutral; they are dishonor and dishonesty. Having good character and acting upon those principles of virtue ought not to be difficult, but should come naturally. Shakespeare exemplified this principle when, in Henry IV, Part I, he has Hotspur declare, “Methinks it were an easy leap to pluck bright honor from the pale-faced moon.” My Mom had a particular way of teaching me about proper behavior. “Son,” she used to say, “you don’t get any medals for doing your duty. There are some things you do just because it’s right.”
It seems to me that good character ought to be the distinguishing characteristic of our personality and our management style and that it ought to be natural and normal. Coach Vince Lombardi, talked about this principle when he wrote, “It is character that is the difference.” In one of his early dialogues, Plato tells the story of a young man on his way to Athens to arrest his father on a charge of impiety. Along the way, he meets his friend Socrates who asks him why he is doing such a terrible thing to his own father. The young man replies, “Because it is right.” “Why is it right?” inquired Socrates. “It’s right,” replied the young man, “because the gods love it.” “Well, my young friend,” said Socrates, “is it right because the gods love it? Or do the gods love it because it is right?”
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