Understanding Character

By Fred Smith

The cover of a golf ball may be multi-colored or carry numerous logos, but the thing that matters is the core. People are the same way. I see them dressed to play roles and posturing for effect, but what I want to know is what makes up their core. The primary thing I want is character. I used to put intelligence first, but I changed my mind. I found I could buttress a person's intelligence, but I could not buttress character.

A job applicant with a weak character will do a lot to hide it, of course. Many people have told me they had a lot to learn about the job I was trying to fill, but no one ever admitted to having a weak character and needing help.

Statistically, however, most management failures come from lack of character rather than lack of intelligence. You can do many things to help a person intellectually, but you are completely vulnerable to the person with a weak character. The weakness will show up at the moment of highest stress, at the very time you need the person to stand.

I have found that adults seldom correct their character faults. Personalities may change, but character rarely does. After doing something wrong, they may be sincerely sorry but then they trip again over the same stumbling block. If I know the person's weakness, I may be able to structure around it, but often it's too late when I find it.

As Christians, we want to help the weak, but we are not called to create a business halfway house for character problems. I warn new managers against trying to do social reclamation in administration.

Character is not homogeneous, like a quart of milk. It is sectional, like a grapefruit. Everyone has good sections and bad. One person may be strongly loyal to the boss, for example, but irresponsible in the job. Another person may be loyal and responsible until he gets a chance to enhance his ego. Ego will weaken character as much as anything I know. Willie Sutton, the bank robber, loved his work but cried when he had to lie to his mother about where he had been. You can't say he had a totally bad character; you can only say some sections were bad. As a manager you must evaluate all the sections, build on the good ones, and avoid the weak ones. If you have trouble evaluating character, get someone with good insight to help you.

My wife, Mary Alice, has an unusual gift in judging character. Rarely did I make a major hire without giving her one on one time with the prospect. She did this with intuition, not through a scientific method. Her remarks would be, "He has a strong face," or negatively, "I wouldn't trust him." Her track record is like gold…..you can take her judgments to the bank. Once I disregarded her evaluation and it cost me valuable time and money.

Tightly wound in the core of the individual that I want on my team is a proven character — one that is tested and one that has held true.