Character matters

For the first 150 years of our nation’s history most people believed that one of the keys to success was a person’s character. In more recent years the focus has been more on skills. However, truly successful people still believe that character remains the determining factor in one’s success. General Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy.” When 1,300 senior executives were surveyed, 71 percent said that integrity was the quality most needed to succeed in business.

In the introduction to the book The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence the authors write, “Character – the inner world of motives and values that shapes our actions – is the ultimate determiner of the nature of our leadership.  It empowers our capacities while keeping them in check.  It distinguishes those who steward power well from those who abuse power.  Character weaves such values as integrity, honesty, and selfless service into the fabric of our lives, organizations, and cultures.” This is as good a definition of character as I’ve found.

People prefer to do business with people they like, and they like people they can trust. Have you ever referred a friend to someone you felt had cheated you or lied to you? Of course not. If you have a good experience doing business with someone you are likely to refer people to that person. If your experience is bad, you are also likely to warn others to stay away from that person.

One of the worst things that can happen to someone is for their skills to take them to a level their character cannot sustain them. When someone with a weak character begins to enjoy some level of success he wants to maintain or even exceed that level. He may be tempted to cut corners, deceive people, or do other things that are illegal or unethical. Eventually, word gets out, and that level of success he had enjoyed disappears.

In a previous business I owned I constantly encouraged our employees to under-promise and over-deliver. I wanted us to always give to the customer more than we said we would. I wanted our service to be top notch. We were not perfect. No one is, but we tried to be fair and honest with everyone who did business with us.

I try to do the same in my current auction business. When people ask me to sell items for them, and I know those items won’t attract any buyers I tell them so upfront. I’ve hurt a few feelings doing that, but it’s better to tell them before the sale than for them to find out after the sale. If I know something I’m selling has a flaw I point it out before selling it. I’m certainly no expert on anything, and my ring people and I don’t catch everything, but we will tell whatever we know about an item. And, I’ve had people approach me after an auction who had found a problem with an item they’ve bought, and we canceled their purchase.

The Golden Rule is to treat others the way you want to be treated, and this is what we try to do. Doing so will earn you the trust of the people you do business with and will probably lead them to be repeat customers.

At the end of the day the only thing any of us really has is our reputation. If our reputation is is good we’re already a success!

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