Since it’s easier to train a person of good character to do a job well than to develop character in a skilled but unprincipled employee, if you have to choose, hire for character and train for skills.
Below are some thoughts from Michael Josephson regarding character. I think it’s important to always be “sharpening the saw” regarding character. At the end of the day, that’s all we really have.
What Is Character?
Character is the sum total of our dispositions, attitudes, and habits. Everyone has a character. But not everyone has character.
Good character is ethics in action; it’s the ability to summon the moral strength to do the right thing even when it may cost more than we want to pay.
People of character do the right thing even if no one is looking; they live up to their values even when there is no advantage to do so.
No one is born with good character. It’s something we all have to build and protect day by day, decision by decision.
The Nature of Character
Abraham Lincoln was very concerned with character, but he also was aware of the importance of having a good reputation. He explained the difference this way: “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Put another way, your reputation is what people think of you, and your character is what you actually are.
In a world preoccupied with image, it’s easy to worry too much about our reputation and too little about our character. Building a reputation is largely a public relations project; building character requires us to focus on our values and actions. Noble rhetoric and good intentions aren’t enough.
What we’re looking for is moral strength based on ethical principles. Character is revealed by actions, not words — especially when there’s a gap between what we want to do and what we should do, and when doing the right thing costs more than we want to pay.
Our character is revealed by how we deal with pressures and temptations. But it’s also disclosed by everyday actions, including what we say and do when we think no one is looking and we assume we won’t get caught. The way we treat people we think can’t help or hurt us, like housekeepers, waiters, and secretaries, tells more about our character than how we treat people we think are important. People who are honest, kind, and fair only when there is something to gain shouldn’t be confused with people of real character who demonstrate these qualities habitually, under all circumstances.
Character is not a fancy coat we put on for show; it’s who we really are.
Character Is An Essential Competence
If you were hiring a new CEO, what are the most important qualities you’d look for? Surely you’d want a high level of demonstrated competence – knowledge, experience, intelligence, vision, communication, relationship skills, and the ability to motivate, manage, and solve problems. But what about qualities such as honesty, moral courage, accountability, and fairness?
Despite bold rhetoric about the indispensability of good character, many hard-driving organizations are willing to be flexible on character to get an exceptionally competent person.
Thus, many current scandals – in business, the church, and sports – have occurred because organizations compromised their principles by recruiting, retaining, or tolerating leaders with serious character flaws who generated costly accusations of wrongdoing and undermined trust, morale, teamwork, and loyalty.
Long ago, Samuel Johnson said, “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, but knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.”
Warren Buffet updated that notion: “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. But if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”