We all have, at one time or another, faced situations that test our temperament, our spirit, and our moral fiber.
I recently re-read an article that opened by introducing situations where professional responsibilities unexpectedly come into conflict with deeply held beliefs: a budget crisis forcing a manager to dismiss a loyal, hardworking employee and a child with a school event the same afternoon an important client is scheduled to visit the office. The author discusses how, in the discipline of building character, these moments can be the catalyst for “inspired action and personal growth.”
Character Building Moments
The author distinguishes between ethical and right v. right situations and as a thinker of things, I read the article pulling the two apart. As a day-to-day leader on the ground; however, that distinction is not as significant. Both situations put me to the test.
Think about a time when you suspected a colleague was working against you or when you made an informed, well-researched recommendation that was too easily dismissed? Were you tasked to work collaboratively with people you didn’t see eye-to-eye with, disagree with a leadership decision or change in department or organizational priorities, or discover the approach you wanted to take on an issue was in conflict with organizational culture? Were you disparaged in a meeting, or worse, in the “meeting after the meeting?” Were you tired of picking up the slack for others and ready to put your foot down? Were you at your desk head-in-hands faced with multiple time-sensitive actions at the very moment a co-worker asked for your help?
I call these character-building moments and most days I could do without them.
Character Building is Messy
Character-building moments can call to you from the very core of your being and provoke you to choose between what you feel you should do and what you would do, if but for the expectations of others. Character-building experiences will test your resolve to live up to your ideals. Character-building experiences are sneaky and come to you before you’ve developed your personal ideals or when your defenses are down.
Character-building moments bring to light something about ourselves that we may, may not even know existed, or did but didn’t want to face. I’ve come face-to-face with disrespect, distrust, and my own #MeToo moments. I was beside myself as a Company Commander when I received a strongly-worded-but-not-quite-a-direct order to not meet with a soldier charged with bringing a loaded pistol into the Army Finance center. Hey, how else was he going to get his estranged wife to speak with him? I’ve tossed and turned during sleepless nights debating rules v. principles and worked through (or recovered from) interpersonal conflicts between myself and others or conflicts and gossip amongst work teams, co-workers, and friends.
If you ask me describe these situations now, I’d do so with the wisdom of age and experience. You would not hear the full-force of the internal self-assessments of what I could have or should have done differently, the conversations I had with myself on the way home where I said all the things I could have or should have said, or even better, kicking myself for being in the situation in the first place.
Building Character Each Day
When you look back on your character-building moments, and you will, you’re doing so from the safety of distance and time. Don’t judge. Look back with the grace and compassion for who you were in the moment before hindsight.
Scheduling conflicts occur, clients understand, and your kid will be just fine if you have to miss a school event. Always let people go humanely. Go for principles over rules, know the strength of solidarity and of yourself as an individual, if it feels wrong it is wrong and don’t let anyone convince you other wise, talk with the soldier and know you made the right decision when he later shares that the meeting gave him the strength to take responsibility for his actions and reestablish his life as a civilian.
What we do flows out of who we are. Being precedes doing. How we respond comes as a result of all the choices we have made throughout our lives. Our choices become our actions. Our actions become our habits. Our habits become our character.