Character: Do you walk your talk?

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The first of the 5C’s of Trustworthiness is CHARACTER. The question being asked about you by others in your circle is simply “Do you walk your talk?”

Let’s dissect that question.

Conceptual core values integrity ethics abstract concept word cl

First, your TALK. What are your VALUES? Are they positive and admirable — inspiring and deserving respect and approval? Are they shared by the other members of the team, the other members of your family, or the other person in the relationship?

Then there’s your WALK. Are your ACTIONS consistent with your values? Not just when it is easy, but when it’s hard and inconvenient, when you are tired or fearful, when no one is looking. Not just in the big things, but in the numerous little actions of each day.

If your talk (values) and your walk (actions) are consistent, then you have INTEGRITY. And if your values are moral and ethical, you are HONORABLE.

But if you don’t, you are a HYPOCRITE. Yep, sorry, harsh but true.

Talk is cheap. When measuring character, what people think and say they believe is interesting, but not sufficient. Character is measured by BEHAVIOR.

A boss announces “Our people are our most important asset!” then fails to acknowledge his direct reports who worked overtime to complete a crucial project with superior results. When asked about it, he says, “Hey, they know I appreciate their work, I’m just not the type that gives pats on the back.” Hmmmm.

How about all the politicians and tele-evangelists who have contradicted their high-falutin’ pronouncements by their subsequent actions? Who trusts them?

Lance Armstrong established a foundation to fight cancer and became an inspiration to millions while consistently and emphatically denying accusations of taking performance enhancing drugs, calling his accusers “liars,” and suing a newspaper for slander. When evidence against him became overwhelming, he finally admitted the accusations were true. His trustworthiness was lost years before among his teammates and now also lost to the general public.

There are two key barriers to WALKING OUR TALK: rationalization and blind spots.

1. Rationalization. We too often let ourselves off the hook when we act hypocritically by assessing our own character by a different yardstick. We protect our fragile ego by scoring ourselves NOT on our behavior, but on our INTENTIONS (“I didn’t mean to break my promise. Something came up at work at the last minute.”) or diminishing the severity of the wrong until it is no longer wrong (“I only hedged a bit on my expense report. That’s not really stealing. Everyone does it.”). As George Costanza said on Seinfeld, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” And we have a highly-trained ability for self-deception when our conscience is tugged by our hypocrisy.

2. Blind spots. We don’t have complete awareness of how our actions are perceived by others, especially those we don’t interact with regularly.

Solution: We need to have TRUTH-TELLERS in our lives who know what our VALUES are and can tell us when our BEHAVIOR deviates from our values.

So, here’s the simple but fundamental lesson: If you want to build a trustworthy CHARACTER, focus on BEHAVIOR.

As Sister Helen Prejean has written simply, “I watch what I do to see what I believe.”

And improving behavior takes PRACTICE.

If improving a physical skill (e.g., hitting a baseball, playing the piano, public speaking, flying a plane, etc.) takes practice, so does improving a character skill.

I’m talking about practicing INTEGRITY: walking the talk; making your actions conform to your words, your values, and your beliefs.

But how can someone practice integrity? Pay attention. Use the numerous CHOICES we all face everyday to DO THE RIGHT THING, however you define it. Don’t look the other way; don’t procrastinate; don’t rationalize.

A while back I noticed a teenager shoplift an item at a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop. I confronted the urge to not get involved and chose to speak up. It was a little thing, a tiny incident, hardly worth mentioning. But it was a BIG thing for my character practice. Looking back on it, I was surprised by how much I was inclined to look the other way, to not say anything… I was also surprised how much easier it was for me to NOT look the other way the next time I was faced with a similar choice. Hmmm, I was out on the driving range grooving my character swing.

As your CHARACTER MUSCLES grow, you’ll find it easier and easier to proactively do the right thing; you’ll avoid some big crises that weren’t allowed to fester and grow until they would have become your personal IED; and when BIG CHOICES are required, you’ll nearly automatically respond with INTEGRITY, thanks to your training.

And everyone around you will look at you differently…not because your beliefs have changed, but because your BEHAVIOR has changed…and their trust and admiration will grow.

Are you willing to look at your everyday challenges and choices as CHARACTER PRACTICE?

It’s easier to WALK YOUR TALK if you’ve beaten a path using small steps every day.


CHARACTER TRAINING

1. Make a list of your top-5 core values.

2. Pick one each day to proactively demonstrate by your behavior (e.g., let’s say a core value is kindness: look for three opportunities during the day to show kindness).

3. Use a daily journal to keep score of your practice. What did you learn? Are you improving in consistency and effect?

Rinse and repeat…forever.

PRACTICE.

When the storm hits, we don’t rise to the occasion, we fall to our TRAINING.

Every day our actions move our CHARACTER needle one direction or the other, positively or negatively.

Which direction did your needle move today?


Be a High-Trust Leader: build TRUST by building CHARACTER — walk your talk.