When we start off working as youngsters, most of us don’t have the common sense to move beyond our juvenile selves to assume more mature character traits appropriate for the workplace.
We also typically land in jobs where our potentially outrageous behavior can cause the least amount of damage — in my case, this included mating freshly-grilled burgers with appropriate-sized buns for the steamer storage bin at Burger King.
Later, our mismatched personalities of “future business mogul” and “party animal” duel it out in college during classes, internships and more responsible employment.
Then we madly scramble to figure out who we really are before we interview in the full-time professional world — where, of course, our potential employers think we’re only going to stay for two years anyway.
However, when each of us eventually enters the professional workforce, our youth and inexperience still typically dictate the creation of a brand new professional personality where one may not have existed before.
The result: a work-week personality vs. a weekend personality.
After all, it’s normally not advisable to do shots out of someone’s belly button in the Board Room.
As the years pass and our resumes expand, these dueling personalities pretty much have to unite as one — a multi-faceted persona, we can hope, but one nonetheless.
Even so, we were all young once. Beginning with everyone’s first foray into the workforce, an ongoing battle commences of “character” versus “characters” — who we are as compared to who we sometimes pretend to be.
Perception versus reality
These days, society doesn’t always help.
First, the wireless world has all but stripped today’s youth of the ability to communicate in person.
Then, with the increasing popularity of Reality TV, our “character” is often influenced by “characters” whose “reality” bears no resemblance to whom we are or who we should be.
For example, not immune to the allure of a Real Housewife, I still understand that I am sometimes being entertained by bad behavior while an impressionable youngster actually may tragically aspire to become “16 and Pregnant.”
And though “Saturday Night Live” alum Darrell Hammond has laid claim to the longest tenure of any SNL performer (1995-2009), this does not mean his personal character compares to the various “characters” he has portrayed: President Bill Clinton, Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney, Regis Philbin and an Alex Trebek-loathing Sean Connery.
My recent chat with “businessman” Hammond revealed a man who sermonizes the value of hard work, determination and goal setting. He’s not really a president — he played one on TV.
At least pop-culture icon Judge Judy Sheindlin presents a reality-based version of the legal system — one that rewards polished communication skills, honesty, respect and even posture. Like her or not, Judge Judy’s least-successful guests suffer very public consequences stemming from a lack of preparation and yes, character.
Facing the job ahead
Of course, we can still complain about the seemingly selfish behavior of our younger generation, but before we throw Gen-Y under the bus. Who was driving the bus in the first place?
Weren’t today’s successful CEOs, VPs, senior managers and entrepreneurs also the parents who raised Gen-Y?
The bottom line: experienced business professionals must accept a more significant role in mentoring our young charges as they are essentially playing an adult version of Follow the Leader.
There is simply no greater example of character in business than a willingness to mentor and lead by example.
Though, to an actor such as Hammond, "honest" refers to a truthful portrayal of a character, using "honest" as a character trait resonates equally well in the business world.
After all, no one wants to deal with a business professional who is acting the part.
Real character matters.
Speaker, writer and “professional storyteller” Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Fla. He can be reached at Randy@mindzoo.com or (571) 238-4572.
Have you ever stopped to think about what leads to great outcomes in your business? How about when a plan doesn’t work? Was it the plan itself that failed or something larger?
It’s important to remember excellent results come from more than just excellent strategies and tactics. It is the character of our organizations that determines the ultimate success or failure of our plan.
The fact that your success will rise and fall on the collective personal character of your organization can be a sobering thought. Of course, there can be other circumstances at play. But all too often, the missing component in reaching strategic and tactical success is a gap in the company’s collective character.
And make no mistake about it: Your company’s character starts with you.
People turn to leaders who exhibit consistent great character. And customers turn to companies who exhibit consistent great character. This is a chain reaction that begins with you and can end with wonderful success for your organization.
Here are five points of character I believe we CEOs should keep in mind when leading our organizations. Modeling these points drives the creation of a collective culture that delivers excellent results from well-laid strategies and tactics:
Employees who aren’t fearful of mistakes reach for new ideas, create new ways to help customers and develop better methods of doing business. Encourage this desire in your team members. Release them from worry of doing the wrong thing and set them free to create the next big thing.
Treat everyone equally
Some years ago, Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson wrote a booklet of leadership observations in which he cautions, “Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with.”
From your leadership peers to the man hauling out your recycling, treat everyone with the same respect and care. When your employees feel valued at all levels and see that everyone matters to you, it fosters an environment of respect and kindness that will naturally carry over to how they treat your customers. You’ll have employees who genuinely want your company to succeed — and who better to carry out your strategies and tactics?
Stay on top of the most recent research, tools and education in your field, and encourage your employees to do the same. Provide ample opportunities for them to better themselves, both professionally and personally. Smarter, more engaged, happier employees serve your customers better, deliver more and execute plans better. In simple terms, put the best into your people, so you’ll get the best out.
I often tell my wonderful employees that I want to send them home safer and healthier than when they arrived in the morning, and I work to implement processes and programs to support this. Genuine caring for the people who carry out the business of your business reverberates throughout the organization.
As with all of these character points, they ripple from you to your employees to your customers, helping excellent work be done all along the way, resulting in great successes. Care about your employees and they’ll care about your business.
Do the right thing
Helping others, taking responsibility, owning up to mistakes, honoring your word — when these are the types of things you are known for, they become the types of things your organization is known for. A culture of responsibility, kindness and honesty. That is the type of culture that does the right thing — even when the boss isn’t looking.
Joseph James Slawek is the founder, chairman and CEO of FONA International, a full-service flavor company serving some of the largest food, beverage, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. For more information, visit www.fona.com.