Three men who believed they could judge character by facial appearance were gathered in a plastic surgeons office: a playwright, a lawyer and a doctor. They were looking at masks of patients before surgery. The playwright said, “This person with a receding chin is a weakling.” “Wrong,” the plastic surgeon answered, “He’s an aggressive stockbroker.” The lawyer said, “This man with the ugly gash on his cheek must be a gangster. It’s a typical squealer’s cut.” “No”, the surgeon said. “He’s a sedate businessman that was in a car wreck.” The last man examined the mask with the broken nose and said, “This fellow looks as if he’s been in a number of fights. Is he a pugilist or racketeer?” “No,” the plastic surgeon answered, “He’s a school teacher who fell on his nose when he was a child.” He then showed the three men the casts of these patients after surgery. They were astounded. They couldn’t believe these normal faces had once been horribly distorted. To this day, many people persist in believing that theface is an index to character. Character is below the surface; it’s in the heart. Character is who you are in the dark.
True character has roots that go back to childhood. It’s the tough times in a person’s life that spawn greatness… or character. Hard times and harsh times developed strong men and women, women who think straight and stand tall, men who refuse to bend and bow… willing to swim up-stream rather than float down with the tide and current of the waters.
Hard times are not over and harsh times have not passed away. We find ourselves in the midst of these this very moment. You might be working to overcome a rough childhood by your accomplishments inthe professional world, or maybe you are fighting a nagging illness. Maybe you are struggling with finances, you have marriage problems, an alcoholic relative or your parents are becoming dependent; the list can go on and on. We all have our own battles.
The German poet Johan Gutta wrote – “A talent is formed in stillness; character is formed in the world’s torrent. It’s character that we are all about; strength of character.” Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher wrote “Not education, but character is man’s greatest need and man’s greatest safeguard.” My favorite author Chuck Swindoll says that “Character is the moral, ethical and spiritual undergirding that rests on truth, that reinforces a life in stressful times and resists all temptation to compromise.”
In essence, character is about doing good rather than harm to others, whether the harm is intentional or not. This widely recognized critical dimension of Character in fact supersedes community or social views over time. Leaders who demonstrate such Character are respected, trusted, and admired by people. This consistent core principle is not limited to specific situations, roles, decisions, or eras in the life of their organization. Instead, it is a large part of the leaders’ core self—how they define and thereafter conduct themselves—in all contexts and with all people. For those who develop this strength, Character is the unifying ingredient for all layers of the self — a unification that results in compelling leadership from the inside out.
Carlisle, the Scottish essayist said “The block of granite that stands as an obstacle to the weak becomes a stepping stone to the strong.”