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Joined: 23 July 2008
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    Posted: 23 August 2008 at 4:17am

Character as an Essential Competence
by Elaine Ireland and Michael Josephson of the Josephson Institute

What is character? How can it be sustainable? And how do you consciously develop and build it — in kids, in business, in sports, politics — any walk of life?

Character education that builds an ethical, effective and sustainable culture is certainly the key ingredient to a healthy future. The best place to start, of course, is cementing these values within ourselves and our children while being as strategic and consistent as we can be about it. Support from outside sources can be a great resource to assist and strengthen whatever program we have for ourselves, our family, our business.

Character Counts!? is an educational framework for teaching universal values and a national coalition of organizations that support each other.

What about in business?
For example, 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, and 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 scandals – in business, the church, sports – have occurred because organizations compromised their principles by recruiting, retaining, or tolerating leaders with serious character issues who generated costly accusations of wrongdoing — and sometimes lawsuits — undermining the trust, morale, teamwork, and loyalty it takes so long for an organization to build.

I used to tell clients that competence and character were two separate aspects of intelligent employment decisions. Now I think it’s a mistake to disconnect them. Good character is an essential aspect of competence.

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.”

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.

What about in sports?
Since the Olympics are occuring as we write this, lets take a look at them. The symbolism of the Olympic logo, the five Olympic rings, shows a different color representing 1) the colors that appeared on all the national flags of the world at that time of its design in 1913, and 2) the five inhabited continents, with no particular ring meant to represent any specific continent. The rings are interlaced to represent that the Olympics are universal, bringing athletes from the world together.

The Olympic Motto is citius, altius, fortius (faster, higher, stronger). Note that it’s not fastest, highest, strongest because the Olympic ideal encourages athletes to view success in terms of effort, the constant striving for improvement and the achievement of one’s personal best. Giving one’s best and pursuing victory with honor is a worthwhile goal regardless of the outcome.

It shows up everywhere at the Olympics. The athletes are doing just that — pursuing victory with honor, giving it their all. They're competing certainly. Its competition with themselves first to continually improve their personal best.

Olympic ideals can and should infuse sports and our lives with nobler purpose and deeper meaning. Although I'm not an athlete, it inspires me to ask, can I improve my personal best?

Building character involves the heart as well as the head. The goal is to make good thoughts and conduct a matter of habit. The Josephson Institute was involved in training U.S. Olympic athletes on the importance of Olympic ideals, sportsmanship, and exemplary behavior on and off the field, thereby benefiting the athletes' image as well as improving America’s image abroad.

Whether an athlete in the Olympics or a citizen trying to live more sustainably, we have an opportunity to transcend our self-absorbed, industrial societal habits. Will we mature into a respectful, globally conscious, sustainable citizenry just as the Olympians have shown us? Or will we continue to rebel and compete against nature and one another? You have the power to shape the future. You decide.

Need support? For one week in October, you too can participate in the biggest celebration of character in the world. Join the Josephson Institute for Character Counts!? Week and connect with others around the globe. No matter what your political or religious affiliation, this event is about the universal values we all share.

CHARACTER COUNTS!? Week — October 19-25, 2008

A movement for change. Last year over 5 million kids in 51 countries celebrated the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship — and connected with others around the globe.
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