Three Reasons Why Character Matters in the Workplace

Character Community Foundation

I recently came across an organization called the Character Community Foundation. The objective of this foundation is to help individuals and organizations, including businesses, cultivate a character-based culture to contribute to a stronger community. The Foundation identifies these 11 character attributes:

Compassion | Courage | Fairness | Honesty | Inclusiveness | Initiative | Integrity | Optimism | Perseverance | Respect | Responsibility

There is no doubt that a workplace exhibiting these attributes and a company operating within their guidelines would be a great company.

What is Character?

What exactly is character? Most people would agree that the attributes listed above are indicators of good character and that working with people who have these attributes is preferable to working with people who lack them.

The Oxford Dictionary defines character as: “The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” Most would agree that a person’s character is revealed by how they act when no one is watching and by the choices they make when they believe no one will know. More importantly, when public and private behavior is consistent, we believe it’s governed by character rather than expediency or some external motive.

Of course, the word character itself is neither positive nor negative. Everyone has character, but not everyone has the attributes associated with good character. This is an important distinction because character matters—whether it’s good or bad. While some personality traits may be genetic, for the most part character “happens.” This cautionary verse illustrates just how easily and unconsciously it happens!

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
  watch your words, they become actions;
  watch your actions, they become habits;
  watch your habits, they become character;
  watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

Frank Outlaw
Late President of the Bi-Lo Stores[1]

Why Character Matters in the Workplace

In an organization, the character of the leader sets the tone for everyone else. When leaders demonstrate good character and expect the same from all employees, everyone benefits from the resulting inclusive, high-trust culture and the company outperforms. If, for example, everyone in an organization embraced the 11 character attributes described above, that organization and everyone who works there would benefit from three fundamental advantages (at minimum).

  1. More trust: When people in an organization know they are respected and valued and relied upon and that they in turn respect, value and rely upon their leaders and co-workers, a culture of mutual trust can emerge.  Honesty, integrity and compassion nurture that trust further.
  2. More pride: Employees want to feel proud of the organization they work for. Knowing that leadership not only talks about good character, but also demonstrates and supports the character attributes they talk about, allows employees to take pride in their work and their company. Organizational pride keeps employees engaged with and committed to their organization.[2]
  3. More teamwork: When leaders and employees are motivated by purpose more than personal gain, are proud of the company they work for, and have trusting relationships with colleagues and leaders, they appreciate the value of teamwork. In fact, research has found that only high trust between co-workers and leaders supports the level of collaboration needed for challenging teamwork and that organizations who achieve this level of trust benefit from a competitive advantage through the added value and synergy of effective teamwork.[3]

There are many other reasons why character matters, including the stories of employee abuse, deception and financial ruin that commonly follow leaders with poor character. In fact, the many spectacular ethical failures in recent years have brought the need for ethical leadership back to the forefront, while highlighting the importance (and value) of cultivating a company culture based on good character. The message is clear: leading, managing and working with good character is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good business.


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