Than Ever, Character Counts in Life
The long-term health of an organization depends on the character
of the people who lead and work in the organization.
Story By Robert
news and bad news. First, the good news -- there are organizations
and institutions, both public and private, that will not accept
any trace of a compromise of public trust. In fact, in my personal
and professional experience, I have found that when it comes to
ensuring the character of most organizations, leadership usually
will err on the side of honor versus any perception of working on
the dark side of integrity.
routinely have to balance social responsibility, meaning doing what's
best for the public, with corporate responsibility, read the profits.
-- where I have a lifetime of experience -- will face moments when
bad judgments will require hard changes and a transparent public
discussion of mistakes. Experience leads most public organizations
to disclose bad news as soon as is practical. It's less painful
to announce mistakes and what the fix is than to have someone else
discover mistakes and spread the wrong information about the problem
and the solution. Most public and corporate organizations get it.
That's the good news.
Now for the
bad news -- some public and corporate organizations don't get it.
There will be other news stories about bad behavior in organizations
that will impact the public's trust and confidence in those organizations.
I almost think it's a sign of arrogance in this day and age to think
that organizations can perform acts or condone actions that are
not honorable and get by with it.
We are an incredibly
open society. Even in the mostly secret society that I worked in
for decades, it was naive to think that bad judgment would not eventually
surface. That's because most people want to be proud of the organization
where they work. When they see something wrong that is not explained
and corrected, it aggravates them. In due course, the character
of good people will work to modify bad behavior of organizations.
When the correction mechanism is the work force rather than the
leadership of an organization, expect a bad headline and a public
outcry for explanation. Say goodbye to public trust when this happens.
health of an organization depends on the character of the people
who lead and work in the organization. Most importantly, the character
of the organization will be directly reflected by the character
of the leadership. If the leadership has the integrity to admit
when it's right or when it's wrong, the rest of the organization
will imprint with the same sense of responsibility to be truthful
without fear of retribution. It's that simple.
If the leadership
of an organization fails the integrity test, the rest of the organization
will struggle with confidence in the leadership and public confidence
in the organization will eventually erode. It's really a matter
of courage. The courage of the leadership to do the right thing
will define the character of an organization.
or public, the courage of leadership to accept responsibility for
an organization's actions will determine the organization's members'
-- and the public's -- confidence in the organization. It's the
ultimate test of service before self -- when leadership holds itself
accountable even at the expense of personal reputation.
So what does
this all mean? It means that character -- individual and organizational
-- really counts. While it's a professional necessity for responsible
leadership, having technical skills in any chosen field simply isn't
good enough. The world is full of people who have superb technical
skills. But responsible leadership requires more. Responsible leadership
requires a deep, sincere dose of integrity, a service-before-self
commitment to the organization and, just as importantly, the courage
to pull the trigger on both integrity and that service-before-self
commitment. My experience in both public institutions and in corporate
boardrooms has shown that character counts as much or more than
job-related skills when it comes to leading.
A final thought,
please. I also think it's the responsibility of any honorable society
to present to the next generation of public and corporate leadership
-- meaning our sons and daughters -- a template for character. For
our next "greatest generation" of leaders to believe and
understand the importance of character, those in leadership positions
today have to put aside influences that can lead to even the perception
of less than pristine character.
It's up to us to define for the next "greatest generation"
what it means to value one's integrity, to embrace the notion that
it's honorable to place something in our lives before ourselves
and the importance of having the courage to make decisions that
are noble, even if the decisions are at odds with our own personal
ambitions. That's the challenge for all of us over age 30: to remember
to bring our courage during trying times to make tough decisions.
Because, at the end of the day, character really does count.
A native of
Mingo County, retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert H. "Doc"
Foglesong formerly served as president of Mississippi State University.
He has a Ph.D. from West Virginia University. He is founder and
executive director of the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation,
a nonprofit organization that supports the next generation of leaders
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