Posts filed under ‘humility’

Character Matters Most

James Thurber wrote, “There are two kinds of light – the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.” As a leader it’s important to know the difference and to be able to help others understand as well.

To me, the “glow” that illuminates represents those things that are sure, timeless, and everlasting. Things like truth, trust, and integrity. They are real; they are dependable, breeding confidence, peace and calm. They light the way and warm the soul. They are “the glow that illuminates”.

The “glare”, on the other hand are those things that are temporary, superficial, or meant to deflect, cover up or distract. Things like perfume, styling, presentation, even clothing can be helpful in covering or “prettying up” what otherwise may not, on its own merits, be attractive. The “glare” obscures what we’d rather others not notice.

Both glow and glare have their place and their utility. Interestingly, one can draw the same distinction between character and personality.

Character relates to deeply held values, principles and beliefs, such as integrity, humility, courage, fidelity…and to one’s performance relative to those values and beliefs. Like the “glow that illuminates”, character comes from deep within and is enduring and guiding to the extent one acts in alignment with one’s defining values. They are the “glow that illuminates”.

Personality on the other hand is more external, superficial, and relates to the way one presents himself to the world. The way he dresses, communicates, negotiates, and moves within social and business circles. Much of today’s self-improvement literature focuses on these temporary strategies, skills, and quick fixes aimed at advancing one’s success in any number of settings…by putting on a “better” face. These are “the glare that obscures”.

Again, like the “glow” and the “glare”, character and personality both have their place and value. However, if one compares the resources (time, effort, and money) spent on the one versus the other, there is, it seems, a significant imbalance today. Prior to the twentieth century most literature focused on character development. Since then, the emphasis has tilted heavily toward personality, with nearly all of today’s career development and “self improvement” books, seminars, and programs focusing on behaviors related to personality. Selling more, winning friends and influencing people, getting rich, deal making…

While there’s nothing wrong with improving skills and looking the best we can, there is danger in doing so at the expense of one’s character and those things (values and principles) that are of highest priority. One of the great challenges in life is finding the right balance of character and personality. The secret in successfully doing so lies in [always] putting character first and never compromising one’s character on the altar of personality.

Great leaders encourage others to put character first, even ahead of things that might bring tempting short-term gains. But that’s part of true leadership. In fact the act of encouraging character development over selfish interests itself takes on a glow that illuminates the path for others rather than a glare that may cause them to lose their way.

Lead on!

Cliff

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April 3, 2016 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment


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