The Character Card

Ethics, morals & values aren't dealt; they re developed


Bob Vernon | From the February 2010 Issue Friday, February 26, 2010

Commercial fishing in the treacherous waters off of Alaska is a tough and sometimes very dangerous job. A captain of one of those boats was asked about his hiring practices. He responded that he preferred hiring lumberjacks. Why lumberjacks? His response: You can teach someone to do this job, but you've got to begin with someone with a good work ethic. I need men who enjoy hard work.

Smart human resource people hire for character. This is particularly true during this time of financial crisis. Our profession requires character traits that go beyond the willingness to work hard.

We're all unique. We come into this world with different levels of potential in most dimensions of life. Example: We have different levels of athletic potential. Many of our physical achievements are based on desire, discipline and commitment. But in truth we don't start out equal as far as athletic potential is concerned. We aren't all Olympic athletic material.

In almost every facet of life, we're dealt some givens. Each of us has distinctive raw material with which to work. We then have the opportunity to make important choices on what we ll do with those givens. An individual with below-average intellectual or physical potential can surpass another with higher potential if they expend great effort.

One important exception to this rule: We all have the same potential for excellent character.

What Is Character?
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary definescharacteras the complex of mental and ethical traits marking a person, group or nation. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point defines character as those moral qualities that constitute the nature of a leader and shape his or her decisions and actions. At the Pointman Leadership Institute, we define character as a combination of one's ethics, morals and values: One's character is the result of a consistent, disciplined application (ethics) of the morals (absolutes) one has chosen (values) to pursue.

Ethics usually refer to behavior or conduct. Various professions, such as law enforcement, have a code of ethics. These codes prescribe or prohibit certain behavior. Webster s Collegiate Dictionary defines ethics as the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.

Morals usually refer to certain absolutes that form the foundation for our ethics. They offer a standard to determine the right and wrong of our ethical behavior. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines the word moral as being of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior.

There's broad agreement on some basic ideas of right and wrong. However, there's a great deal of diversity as to which of those absolutes an individual selects to pursue or value. This combination of choices makes up the uniqueness of every person. These choices form the very core of a person's character.

Character Development
Throughout the years, I ve discovered a disturbing phenomenon: People don't think about character development. I ve asked people to describe just a few of their absolutes to tell me where they d draw a line that they d never trespass. The vast majority responded that they would have to give that considerable thought before answering. Many explained that they had never actually given deliberate thought to that question.

Developing one s character requires the following steps:

  1. Make a commitment to sharpen your character.
  2. Determine what character traits are relevant and appreciated, especially in your position.
  3. Prepare a list of the character traits that you want to sharpen.Example:Our institute has selected integrity, courage, diligence, humility, discipline, loyalty, optimism and conviction.
  4. Prepare an expanded definition of each of these words. This will require some research and heavy thought.
  5. Select a few people you trust, announce your goals, and ask for their feedback regularly as you work on this important project. This step is for those with courage.
  6. Journal your progress.

In today's world, those with strong and admired character are a rare commodity. They re sought after and followed. Excellence of character is a choice. Although having some limitations in various areas of our beings, we all have unlimited potential in excellence of character. --On Point.




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Bob VernonBob Vernon, Law Officer's On Point columnist, retired from the LAPD after 37 years on the force and founded The Pointman Leadership Institute.

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