When “what people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things” (Margaret Mead) we’re in real trouble. On this Father’s Day, I want to honour the one person, of all the leaders I know in this world, who I can vouch for as walks his talk: my own father.
WHO SAID WHAT?
In my head I was debating whether or not to continue this “I Don’t Care How Good You Are” series on character, ethics, morality and integrity when I chanced upon an quote from the newly-launched book of a dear family friend (actually my Dad’s Best Man nearly 40 years ago!): “What a person truly believes isn’t what they think or say, it’s what they do” —Queenie in Lark Rise to Candleford. That was it; that was my confirmation to do this piece. So let’s roll with another in this character series. But this one is very special because it is dedicated to my own biological father.
In many places and pieces of literature, even in Scripture, the life we lead is often referred to as our “walk.” Let’s examine what it means when our talk (what we say we believe in, who say we are or what say we do) doesn’t match our walk.
If there ever was a man of integrity I could vouch for it is my father: Reindorf Kofi Baah Perbi. In fact, even way back in the 1980s during his days as Chief Accountant at the then Social Security Bank (now SG-SSB), when his signature was forged and monies stolen it was his integrity that saved him. Everyone vouched for him: “Chief would never do such a thing,” the convincingly told the authorities.
Those were the heady days of revolution and military rule in Ghana so he had even received a pre-judicial slap or two already when he was picked up by soldiers and sent to Gonja Barracks. After several weeks of tribunal hearings (and I remember us going to fetch him from tribunal hearings after we had been picked up from Ridge Church School), eventually, the perpetrators were found, tried and shot via firing squad. It was no joke. One of them, I believe, is still on the run—he must be still running now or dead from running.
When Dad retired as Ghana’s Deputy Senior Partner of KPMG (one of the ‘big four’ accounting firms in the world) in April 2015, it was humbling to hear how many of his accounting, management consulting, and audit colleagues honoured him for this one thing: integrity. I sat at those banquets (yes, there was more than one! Lol!) soliloquizing, “I want that. When all is said and done, that’s the kind of man I want to be!”
LAYING IT DOWN
Contrast Dad with Kenneth Lay, who was the CEO of Enron. He played a leading role in the corruption scandal that led to the downfall of the Enron Corporation. Unfortunately, Lay and Enron have become synonymous with corporate abuse and accounting fraud since the scandal broke in 2001.
In an interview with the indefatigable Larry King of CNN, after pleading not guilty to criminal counts having to do with his leadership at Enron, these were Mr. Lay’s words: “I lived my life in a certain way to make sure that I would never violate any law – certainly not criminal laws – and have always maintained that most important to me was my integrity, my character, and my values.”
Something doesn’t add up here because in 2004, Lay was indicted on 11 counts of securities fraud and related charges. He was found guilty on May 25, 2006, of 10 counts against him which meant he could face anything from 20 to 30 years in jail. However, only three-and-a-half months before sentencing, Kenneth Lay died of a heart attack while vacationing.
Same thing with Bernie Madoff who founded a Wall Street firm in 1960 of which he was chairman until his arrest on December 11, 2008. He would soon plead guilty to 11 felonies, having turned his wealth management business into a massive Ponzi scheme with almost $65 billion of fabricated gains. Yet hear his defense attorney, Daniel Horowitz: “…Bernard (Bernie) Madoff is a longstanding leader in the financial services industry. He will fight to get through this unfortunate set of events. He is a man of integrity.” Madoff is currently serving a life term in a federal prison for his kind of integrity.
Did you not just read Mr. Lay saying integrity was most important to him? In my short life, perhaps there is no word I’ve found more misunderstood and misappropriated than the word, “INTEGRITY.”
Integrity comes from the Latin root integritas, which means entire or whole. It’s the word from which we get “integer” in Mathematics. It may help to remember that integers are positive or negative whole numbers. To have integrity, therefore, means you are whole, you are one: your private and public lives are one; your charisma and character jive; what you say and what you do are in sync.
Extending the Math metaphor, a life of no integrity on the other hand is fractionated—instead of integers, we have fractions. That is when the Yaw you see behind the pulpit is different from the Yaw you see at the pub; and different from the Yaw you experienced on vacation in Panama; who is also very different from the Yaw at home… Sadly, not too long ago even a pastor whose public image did not match who he truly is was exposed on CNN.
THE ONLY TIME I BELIEVE IN ATHEISTS
When it comes to integrity, I dare say that many non-religious people, even atheists, have more integrity than many so-called religious people. This is what I mean. If Steve says, “I lie, I deceive, I steal.” Steve has low morality. When Yaw says, “I abhor lying, I don’t deceive, I never steal,” he has high morality.
BUT, if Yaw goes on lying, deceiving and stealing then Yaw is not a person of integrity. He doesn’t walk his talk. However, if Steve goes ahead to lie, deceive and steal, although he has low morality he actually is a person of integrity (albeit in a very twisted way) because he walks his talk. He said he will do these and he does.
The extent to which your walk and talk jive is the extent to which you are a person of integrity.
I’m not perfect; none of us is. Many times I haven’t kept my word—including keeping appointments. It isn’t a perfect world either; stuff happens that alter our good intentions. One thing I do, however, is strive to call or email and apologize profusely, letting the person know I had every intention to keep my word but now very sorry I’m unable. The Psalmist David, takes this even a notch further saying a person of integrity is one who keeps his/her word, even when it hurts.
Integrity doesn’t mean you are perfect; but it sure means that when you ‘mess up’ you quickly and truly ‘fess up’. That is what made God call David, albeit an adulterer and a murder, a man of integrity (Psalm 78:72), even “a man after my own heart.”
I have observed with shock how people say things they don’t mean and mean what they don’t say; and say things they have no intention of ever acting on. Time wouldn’t allow me to go into my private disappointments in the lives of public speakers whose private lives don’t measure up to their public statements or images. And they have no qualms about it. The Lays and Madoffs did not just wake up one day and find themselves in court—a little slip, a little lie, and slowly slowly but surely surely down a slippery slope we go.
It doesn’t matter how good you are at what you do (skill, talent, gifting). If consistently what you say does not match what you do (walk), I shan’t hire you. Or if I do by mistake or because I want to give you a chance, you’re already on the firing line—it’s just a matter of time, if nothing changes. The world has billions of smart phones; what we need now is truly smart people. We need more walkie-talkies—people who walk their talk and talk their walk.
Thanks Dad, for showing me the way. Happy Father’s Day!
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.
In the excitement of ‘falling in love forever’ and prospects of ‘making love all night long’ we forget (or simply don’t realize) the reality that nothing works until we work it; especially the hard work on our own character in marriage all life long.
SPEAK NO EVIL
When you are a gifted speaker one of your greatest temptations is accepting invitations to address things you have no expertise or experience in or have no particular passion for, just because you’ve got the gift of the gab. For integrity sake, I’ve always strived to not fall prey to that trap just because “I can talk.” Early in my career as a communicator one of the things I promised myself was to not preach or bring the exhortation at a wedding ceremony for a long time until I had walked long enough in those matrimonial shoes. For me that was a minimum of three years; now it’s been 10.
Since I married my friend of 15 years on August 12, 2006 I’ve had the privilege of conducting and speaking at a few weddings of various kinds: African, North American, Chinese, Messianic Jew… you name it. And I always tend to speak on what others would rather not.
WHAT’S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT?
“Already?!” I exclaim again and again. “But (s)he was many years my junior!” “Did they not just get married?” The rate of divorce in society today worries me to no end; but especially among those who call themselves Christians. One of the factors that pushed me out of not speaking or writing much about marriage was heart-wrenching conversation after conversation about several younger medical colleagues of mine whose marriages had come apart. And it’s not just the Christian doctors; it’s a myriad others.
So why do people still want to get married? Why do some societies actually even pressure people into marriage as if it’s the best thing in the world if we very well know that half of these will be dissolved before the first anniversary? On some social media platforms I know of, divorce is not only normal, it is actively encouraged. What’s all the fuss about weddings then?
The following BIG four ‘features and benefits’ may be why the majority want to marry, what excites all of us who attend weddings and what most counsellors and preachers will talk about:
- Companionship—”It is not good for man to be alone.”
- Cause—a suitable help to accomplish your life’s mission/purpose together.
- Coitus—OK, that’s doctor language; what ‘mere mortals’ call “sex.” Trust me, that alone is worth getting married for! [But then again for the heathen, what’s sex got to do with marriage, right?!]
- Children—both child-bearing and child-rearing in a loving, safe and stable socio-economic and spiritual context.
I may expand on these ‘big four’ in my future writing. My emphasis today is the fifth ‘C’ which nobody talks about much.
THE MISSING ‘C’
Yes, all these four Cs are worth making a fuss about and jubilating at weddings over but one of the most important reasons why God made marriage yet which I hardly hear anybody talking about is this fifth ‘C’ which I want to spend the rest of this blog on: Character.
This, for me, has been my #1 lesson in the mere 10 years I’ve been married (my parents are about hitting forty and both maternal and paternal grandparents made it over half a century in marriage before both grandmas passed away). A key ‘feature and benefit’ of marriage is character construction.
CRUCIBLE & COLLEGE
If you ever did Chemistry experiments in school you most likely used a crucible. It is a container in the lab in which substances are mixed at very high temperatures. Yeah, that’s what marriage is. It is a crucible. Nothing in the world produces as much heat to bring out impurities and form character like marriage! Nothing!
Yes, medical school was tough and moulded the character of my mates and I. Yet if I told you the number of smart, young doctors who finished medical school with excellence and yet are checking out from the ‘heat in the kitchen’ of marriage you will be shell-shocked! It’s not about smartness (the head), it’s not even about skillfulness (the hands), it’s about character (the heart!).
Nothing shapes us like marriage and that is why people can successfully run Fortune 500 companies, like the chap who run a multinational with over 300,000 employees worldwide but could not keep a single marriage! How many world record-setting athletes and multiple-award winning artistes don’t we know who dazzle us with their giftedness but the least said about the marriages the better? O, and archbishops who supervise hundreds of churches and tens of thousands of congregants around the world and cast out big big demons but cannot keep one marriage!
One of God’s highest purposes for making man is so that we look like him—God has always wanted us to look like him—“let us make man in our image and likeness.” Marriage is God’s best laboratory and school for that process of spiritual transformation; some call it “discipleship.” Character formation, the spiritual transformation of one another to become more and more like Christ, is one of the highest ‘features and benefits’ of Christian marriage and yet nobody wants to ‘dampen’ the excitement to talk about that.
I thought I was patient until I got married. I always knew I was prideful but not this much until I started this journey with the most wonderful woman in the world. Trust me, I look much more like Christ today than I did ten years ago, thanks to this thing called marriage. And I’m not even ‘there’ yet (you can ask Anyele my wife!) You and I may decide to ‘check out’ of our marriages for a myriad reasons, chief of them in my generation being “irreconcilable differences.’ Perhaps the secular and godless can say that, but for a Christ follower, is there anything more irreconcilable than sinful us and a perfect God? Yet He came to us and sought us out to reconcile us to Himself as His forever bride “while we were still sinners.”
If we don’t give up but keep up the hard work of “submit[ing[ to one another out of reverence for Christ;” if wives would submit to their husbands in everything as the Church (bride) submits to Christ (bridegroom); if we husbands would love our wives just as Christ loved the Church to the point of sacrificial death we all will be daily transformed more and more into the image of Christ and the longevity of our marriages will actually seem rather like a byproduct.
Your true measure of spirituality is not who you are in church but who you are at home! No better discipleship school in the world than marriage! I did medical school for eight years (and another 2 years of housemanship) before getting my full certificate to practice but marriage is a ‘strange’ college where, as they say, you get your certificate even before you start the course!!
As Ephesians 5 portrays, marriage is this beautiful picture of Christ and His Church, and God wants you and I to mirror this HIGH standard! Don’t try to lower the standard to what you can do; get on your knees and plead for GRACE to reach those heights only God can empower us to! If you’ve decided to or are contemplating this thing called marriage, welcome to the college of discipleship; welcome to the crucible of character formation! If you will both submit to Christ, His Word and His Ways, you will both look like Him more and more!
This is not just the hard work of will power or self-help I speak of but a work of grace; if we will allow it. There is grace enough for the marriage journey. “11For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-12)
MARRIAGE IS AWESOME!
Marriage is not just society’s idea; although today’s Supreme Courts and local governments think this is their invention and can tweak it however they want. Marriage is God’s idea and it is awesome when done God’s way! God made it and said it was good.
Marriage is awesome! The companionship is great!, helping each other in accomplishing our purpose is wonderful!, the sex is literally breathtaking!, the children a blessing!… and the character formation, phenomenal! Don’t just endure, enjoy! None of us is qualified to say “marriage doesn’t work” until we’ve worked it the way the Designer planned it.
“Many of the 49 victims of the United States’s worst mass shooting share much in common: Young Latino men in their 20s and 30s, most of them gay, who gathered at an Orlando club to dance.”
For nearly a decade and a half I’ve had a very interesting relationship with the graveyard. I don’t know how many of the 49 massacred Orlando victims will be cremated, and how many buried in the ground, but that horrific story has evoked my graveyard musings.
Most people I know who love the books and audiovisuals of the late Dr. Myles Munroe never really met him. I had the privilege of a face-to-face; and it was life-transforming. When he asked “Where is the richest place on earth?” nearly all of us got it wrong because our minds went to mines, oil sands and banks; to stock markets, palaces, the Dubais and the like.
Our guts wrenched—at least mine did—when he revealed that the richest place on earth is the graveyard; a locus people of African descent generally would rather not countenance. For the many years I’ve worked with other ethnicities, I’ve realized Africans are not alone in our discomfort around death. Nevertheless, Munroe’s point was that the cemetery is the richest place on earth because there lie several dreams, world records, Grammy-winning music, bestselling books, Oscar award-wining movies… you name it, that were never realized. Buried potential, period.
I was but a medical student then and the sudden death of one of my dear colleagues who had ‘fought the good fight of faith’ to make it to final year drove the point home poignantly. Since then I’ve had a picturesque line in my personal mission statement: “I want to die empty;” I want to die having let out every gifting, book, speech, sermon… every potential God has placed in me. I want to rob the cemetery of any further enriching!
When I wrote YouthPower! in 2004 that was part of my clarion call to young people to arise and do something significant with their lives NOW! so we don’t die and add to the richness of the cemetery. Since then, my like-minded friends and I have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles to nearly 30 countries, sometimes at the peril of our lives in some dark and obscure corners of the world awakening, envisioning, inspiring and empowering young people of all nationalities and ethnicities regarding their YoungPower! We’ve done books, conferences, audiovisuals, engaged on social media, and utilized every platform imaginable to lessen the richness of the graveyard.
Alas! When I saw the above Washington post statement regarding the demographic of the victims of the United States’ worst mass shooting in history; I couldn’t help but wonder if my YouthPower! friends and I weren’t losing the battle against the graveyard.
A quick math eerily reveals nearly all, in fact 92%, of the victims were less than 40 years old! Come to think of it, two of them were even teenagers (18 and 19), 25 were in their twenties, and 18 in their thirties. Only four of the deceased were forty or older (40, 41, 49, 50). Indeed, how old was Omar Mateen the gunman himself who killed and was killed? Just 29.
For a moment—and trust me, it’s even harder for me as a clergyman—let’s forget about the ethereal and eternal ramifications of this, as if it were possible. Just for a moment imagine what YoungPower! in talents, influence, passion, strength, earning potential, impact etc. has been lost forever—and in significant numbers too! The world is poorer for this. Guerrero, who was only 22 and gay, for example, studied at the University of Central Florida and had just become a financial adviser at SunTrust Bank.
Six days after this massacre, a little less that number of young people as were gunned down would gather at a Montreal waterfront (picture above) to witness and celebrate the baptism of Evelyn, a passionate young-lady on the cusp of becoming a full-fledged pharmacist. By this public witness, the young Chinese-Canadian is declaring her death to self and sin and absolute dedication to live an abundant life for God and service to mankind for the rest of her days. The young man leading this somber occasion is about the same age as Omar Mateen but wields ‘the sword of the Spirit’ which conquers evil and gives life not a .223-caliber AR-15-type assault rifle that…well…just kills.
I can’t help but wonder, sometimes when I’m rather melancholic, if my friends and I championing the cause of YoungPower! are not losing the battle to the grave.