In the last article, Character Driven Leadership - No Room For Narcissism, we discussed how a leader’s effectiveness is a function of their character more than their personality. In this article, I would like to take that one step further and tell you why that is the case. To do that, we must understand the following three principles:
Over the years, I have come across many personality tests. They tend to all be about the same: you answer some questions and the testing mechanism spits out a profile of who you are. At least that is what the test is supposed to do. In fact, the tests I’ve taken create a list of traits that describe my surface level tendencies: introverted or extroverted, detail oriented or big picture, team player or prefer to work alone, etc.
To say that these traits are “who I am” is a stretch. Don’t get me wrong. I think personality tests are incredibly helpful. Employers can use them to make sure a potential employee will be a good fit for a certain position. However, they do not describe who you really are.
Your character is who you really are, not your personality. The reason for this is because your principle actions are an extension of who you really are: your character. While your personality will create actions and tendencies, your overriding decisions come from a much deeper place inside you.
So, what is the difference between personality and character? Why is character more important for leaders than personality? The following three ways are from chapter two of my book, “Character Driven Leadership” and can help us understand the differences better.
- Inside vs. Outside – Character traits are those that are on the inside of a person more so than personality traits, which are mainly on the outside. By this I mean that your personality is much more visible to those that do not know you. Within a short time of meeting someone, you can generally tell if they are outgoing or shy, assertive or reserved, cheerful or gloomy. What is much more difficult to see immediately is who they are at their core: honest or dishonest, disciplined or undisciplined, selfless or selfish.
- Impact of Action – Your character has much more of an impact than your personality. If you have a personality trait of cheerful, you may make others happy in the short term. However, if you are cheerful but dishonest, the short term happiness you give to someone will be overshadowed by the long term effects of the dishonest way you treat them.
- Ability to Choose – Personality traits tend to be predetermined. If personality traits were taught, then children raised in the same house, with the same parents, in the same conditions at the same time would all end up basically the same. We rarely see siblings that have identical personality traits. Character, on the other hand, is something determined by choice. Each of us chooses the type of person we will be. We can be taught good character, even from an early age. Our parents, teachers and others can demonstrate and push us towards good character. Ultimately, however, we all choose the person we want to be. If you are selfless, honest and disciplined, it is because you chose to be that way. If you are a narcissist, lack integrity or have a poor attitude, it is because you chose to be that way.
The most important concept of character is this: your primary, vital and impactful actions come from your character, not your personality. In other words, your principal actions are an extension of your character. While your personality is part of who you are, your decision making, and the impact thereof, comes from your character. Who you are deep down; who you are at your core determines the principal actions you take.
Principle #1 – Your principal actions are an extension of your character.
For sake of keeping this article relatively short, I’ll condense the next two principles.
Principle #2 – For every action, there is a reaction.
This principle is self-explanatory. Whatever action you choose to do is going to have a reaction. How you treat others will have a consequence. If you choose to treat them in a way that align with good character, you are most likely going to have a positive reaction from others. If, however, you treat them in the opposite manner, you are most likely going to have a negative reaction from others.
Principle #3 – You are living in the midst of your consequences.
Most of us, at some point in our lives, complain about how others have treated us, the situation we are currently in or an overall “streak of bad luck” in life. If we had the ability to go back and time an analyze our situations, we would see that many of those issues were self-inflicted. That may be a hard pill to swallow but that is the truth.
For the most part, people treat us based on how we treat them. Even if someone else has major character deficits in their life, we can overcome that by treating them with selflessness, respect, and maintaining an honorable character.
Therefore, we are living out the consequences of our actions, which are an extension of our character. If we want to change our consequences, we should evaluate our own character and make changes to align with good character traits.
If we put these three principles together, we soon realize that our life is playing out based on who we are at our core: our character.
In the next article, I will discuss the leadership development triangle and how it can be used to become a great leader.