I stopped getting impressed by talent and smartness a long time ago. I don’t care how good you are at what you do if your character stinks. I’ll tell you why.
CHOICE OF CHARACTER
This year, all eyes are on the United States of America. The world is watching the doyen of modern democracy as it navigates treacherous political waters. The choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is not an easy one. For most people I know they would rather it was neither. America is proverbially “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.” And all of this hesitation has nothing to do with the competence of the candidates. Anyone who has ‘climbed up’ to be Secretary of State of the world’s most powerful country or built a multi-billion real estate empire certainly has some smarts. The thing is, people just don’t trust them. It’s a character issue.
CHARACTER IS EVERYTHING
Character doesn’t just count; it is everything! For a long time I’ve learnt how key the dynamic duo of competence and character is for everyone to master, but particularly for leaders, and that even then character trumps (no pun intended) everything. Yet a few of my own experiences with different leadership teams in varied contexts in the last while have really cemented this in my heart. I really don’t care how good you are (at what you do) if your heart isn’t right! And by your heart being right I mean anything from a proper attitude to integrity and everything in between.
I recall one particular person who was really gifted in details (my strength is the big picture) thus was a treasured member of my leadership team. But the degree of confusion and dissonance (s)he brought on board just made getting rid of this person not as painful as it should’ve been. I was very happy when (s)he voluntarily stepped aside because I had been aiming and aiming and aiming to pull the trigger anyway.
In a different case, I tolerated yet another leader for a long time in spite of all the heart issues that came to the fore because I knew (s)he was skilled in certain core competencies we needed in the organization. I found myself bending over backwards in many ways to accommodate this person and really felt betrayed when (s)he suddenly chose to leave the team. Initially, it really hurt me that (s)he did, but as I pondered and pondered I realized what a blessing in disguise this was. Skills can be trained if a not-that-competent person has the right attitude; but training the heart is another matter altogether.
GOD’S GAUGE; BUFFETS BUFFER
As I pondered how cemented I’ve become in not caring a hoot about someone’s talent but character first, I was reminded about all the talented and gifted people God bypassed to anoint David as king over all Israel. The young lad may have been less impressive but who God, even God, wanted to hire was “a man after my own heart.” Of one of the gifted candidates the LORD categorically told the headhunting prophet, Samuel, very clearly, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7, NLT)
So I don’t care about how good you are; even God doesn’t! Buffet the billionaire intrigues me in many ways. I don’t agree with some of his ways and views but he’s a billionaire and I’m not so he couldn’t care less. I’m still working on my billions. Like a young friend in Niagara humorously quipped the other day, the “first million is the hardest to reach. The rest is easy.” I believe him.
On this issue of character trumping giftedness, I am glad that Warren Buffet and I see eye to eye. He doesn’t seem to care a hoot about how smart you are either. Hear him: “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”
YOU’LL KILL ME, US AND… YOU
So there you have it! That is why I shan’t hire you although you’re good at what you do. As CEO of a significant Canadian organization with about 100 multiethnic staff and 500 volunteers in the second widest country on earth, who I work with really matters. OK, to be fair I do care about how good you are—that you’re intelligent, skilled, energetic, talented, well-educated, passionate, anointed, well-groomed…who wouldn’t like that?
All I’m saying is that first on the list is your heart—especially the right attitude and integrity. Otherwise, not only will you kill me and/or the organization; you’ll actually kill yourself too. As has been anonymously but very poignantly put, “charisma (giftedness) without character is a disaster waiting to happen.” Invariably it does.
I do care about how good you are in the heart; before how good you are in the head and with your hands. The extent to which your goodness in all these three Hs jive is the measure of your integrity. For integrity is about being integrated, being whole; having it all together (more on integrity later on in the future).
AND HE CALLS HIMSELF A SOLDIER?
Having had a stint with the military myself the following observation about character astounds me. I was only in junior high school during the epic Operation Desert storm. Do you remember when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the US with its other global partners (they called themselves “the allied forces”) went in to militarily liberate Kuwait from the grips of Saddam?
Well, the four-star general who successfully led the allied forces to that victory in a short six weeks was a man called Norman Schwarzkopf. On the authority of a thirty-five year military career he once said these stunning words: “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” Really? Choosing character over strategy? And he calls himself a solider?! Well, character is that important, my friend. I don’t care how good you are at strategy— Schwarzkopf too!
DOWN TO THE WIRE—THE HIRE
I stopped getting impressed by talent and smartness a long time ago. I don’t care how good you are at what you do if your character stinks. Now you know why—some of why. There is much more to say about the pricelessness of character in life generally and in leadership in particular but in order not to inflict long blogs on you I’ll serialize “I DON’T CARE HOW GOOD YOU ARE.” Today I’ve only looked at it in terms of who I’ll hire and fire—and who you should(n’t) too.
Later, we’ll even get into dissecting and distinguishing words like integrity, morality, ethics and character—all often bunched up together to mean the same thing; yet they have slight but significant differences.
It’s election year in my home country of Ghana as well. Personally, I shan’t re-hire the incumbent president. He has no integrity—and doesn’t even have enough competence to try and compensate—albeit that in itself can never be a substitute for character either! So who will you hire to run the United States of America? Tell me why.