Character Matters Essay

Fatima Menawa of Stillwater Area High School was honored at BestPrep’s Educational Forum as a winner of a statewide essay competition based on former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice and NFL Hall of Famer Alan Page’s keynote address, “Tomorrow’s Leaders… Why Character Matters.”

Thomson Reuters and BestPrep co-sponsor the essay competition. Fatima was present with other top 20 students who were recognized from more than 400 essay

submissions. These essay winners were invited to a private reception with Justice Page at the Educational Forum in St. Paul. The students could meet Justice Page and participate in a question and answer session with him.

The students’ essays reflected on the role of character development in their education by considering the Martin Luther King quote “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Students responded to the question prompts of “Why is it important for students to develop their character alongside academics?” and “How has your educational journey and life experiences developed your character?”

When asked about the role of character development in her education, Fatima wrote “Character is the root of everything. A person's belief and morals are what drives them through life and gives them a purpose. A purpose, a conviction can do so much in the way of success and how a person contributes to society.”

Essays were read and judged by a panel of business and education volunteers for quality and creativity.

“Our judges were thoroughly impressed with the quality of the essays,” said Bob Kaitz, President and CEO of BestPrep. “The ideas and insights the students shared offer much hope for the future of Minnesota and the world.”

The awards presentation was part of BestPrep’s Educational Forum, which featured a dinner address from Justice Page for nearly 700 business professionals and an on-stage dialogue between Justice Page and Ecolab Chairman & CEO Doug Baker, emceed by WCCO anchor Jason DeRusha.

Some folks have a split personality . . . on the one hand, they believe that being unscrupulous leads to success, but on the other hand, they also recognize that a solid reputation provides ancillary benefits. So they’re ruthless most of the time and rely on a few PR maneuvers to promote their decency. In their eyes, moral character doesn’t contribute directly to success –– for them, strong moral character is a sideshow, not part of the main act.

The fact is, there’s a direct correlation between moral character and success. We lose something very important when character is treated as an afterthought.

Character Matters

The Case for Strong Moral Character

Achieve peace of mind. People with character sleep well at night. They take great pride in knowing that their intentions and actions are honorable. People with character also stay true to their beliefs, do right by others, and always take the high ground. (So refreshing.)

Strengthen trust. People with character enjoy meaningful relationships based on openness, honesty, and mutual respect. When you have good moral character, people know that your behavior is reliable, your heart is in the right place, and your word is good as gold.

Build a solid reputation. People with character command a rock-solid reputation. This helps them attract exciting opportunities “like a magnet.”

Reduce anxiety. People with character carry less baggage. They’re comfortable within their own skin, and they accept responsibility for their actions. They never have to play games, waste precious time keeping their stories straight, or invent excuses to cover their behind.

Increase leadership effectiveness. Leaders with character are highly effective. They have no need to pull rank or resort to command and control to get results. Instead, they’re effective because they’re knowledgeable, admired, trusted, and respected. This helps them secure buy-in automatically, without requiring egregious rules or strong oversight designed to force compliance.

Build confidence. People with character don’t worry about embarrassment if their actions are publicly disclosed. This alleviates the need for damage control or the fear of potential disgrace as a result of indiscretions.

Become a positive role model. People with character set the standard for excellence. They live their life as an open book, teaching others important life lessons through their words and their deeds.

Live a purpose-driven life. People with character live a life they can be proud of. They’re driven to make a difference and to do right by others rather than trying to impress others with extravagance. (Sounds like a wonderful legacy to me.)

Build a strong business. Doing the right thing is good business. Everything else being equal, talented people would rather work for –– and customers would rather buy from –– companies that do right by their people, customers, and communities. While unprincipled business tactics may provide short-term results, it’s NOT a long-term strategy.

Character Matters. It’s That Simple

Some people may say, “This stuff is naïve and wishful thinking . . . the reality is that business is ruthless and most people only care about themselves.” These folks feel the only way to get employees to “do the right thing” is to coerce them.

I believe that’s hogwash. When people are forced to “do the right thing,” they’ll try hard to fight and resist the effort. A better strategy is to prove that a strong character is in everyone’s best interest –– and it is.

Immoral behavior is not the easy road to success. In fact:

  • People without character hurt themselves every day by losing the trust of their colleagues and damaging their reputations;
  • Leaders without character squander the confidence of their constituents and lose the respect of their peers;
  • Businesses without character forfeit once-loyal customers and watch their most valued employees head for the door.

Most importantly, every day that you display weak character, you’re letting yourself down. You must answer to your conscience every minute of every day. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do! That is character!”

Strong Character Is Like a Boomerang

If most people know the difference between right and wrong, why do some shortchange themselves by selling their soul?

They must think, “I’m under pressure to perform,” “I don’t want to lose face,” and “I have an image to maintain.” They reason, “The rewards are worth it,” “It’ll only be this time,” and “No one will ever find out.” Sadly, . . . they probably say, “Everybody does it” or “I’ve gotten away with it before. And, I bet I can again.” But, before you know it, this behavior becomes habit.

Well, if you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, don’t blame the mirror. It’s never too late to change.

It’s not always easy to admit a mistake, persevere during tough times, or follow through on every promise made. It’s not always comfortable to convey the hard truth or stand up for your beliefs. In the short term, it may not be beneficial to do right by your customers, to put people before profits, or to distance yourself from a questionable relationship. BUT, in the long run, doing the right thing is the clear path to both success and happiness.

When you have strong moral character, you’ll be judged by who you are rather than who you pretend to be; you’ll be a trusted friend rather than suspected as a foe; you’ll learn from your mistakes rather than hiding them in fear; you’ll serve as an outstanding role model for your admirers rather than leading them down a dead-end path; you’ll look forward to the future rather than defending your past; and your reputation will do you proud rather than reveal your flaws.

Although you may not be able to quantify the benefits of being a good person, there’s great truth in the saying, “good people finish first.” Strong moral character is like a boomerang that causes good things to find their way back to you –– but it takes effort. Jim Rohn, the business philosopher, said, “Character isn’t something you were born with and can’t change, like your fingerprints. It’s something you weren’t born with and must take responsibility for forming.” So promise yourself to be true to yourself and do what’s right, even when nobody is looking –– Character matters.

How Do You Feel About Character?

Additional Reading:
Reputation: You Can’t Run from Your Shadow
Trust Me … Trust Me Not
Leadership Scorecard
Ethics as Usual
Managing with a Conscience

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Posted on Filed Under: Blog, Career Advice, Leadership, Trust and Integrity Image licensed from Shutterstock

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