Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It's All About Character

The experiences I've had over the years in the business word, academia, and other areas show me over and over just how important leadership is. Among all the skills that might matter in a leader, I have found that character is key. One can have the best technology, the best financial skills, the best market plan, the best patents, and still destroy all hope for real success if the leader of the operation lacks integrity or can't listen to others or is dripping with arrogance. There are counterexamples, I know, but it's amazing how often character issues are what make or break the success of an enterprise. Of course, other skills are needed as well. Good character coupled with good business sense and several other skills works best.

Character matters for all of us. I think it is especially important for our political leaders, where the temptations that go with massive power can lead to so much harm, not just nationally, but globally. While this post is NOT about the presidential campaign, I'll note that one of my most difficult moments as bishop some years ago was during a presidential election when I was asked by the Church to read the Church's statement - I think it was about political neutrality - from the pulpit. The statement reminded us that the Church does not endorse any particular candidate and then had the audacity to refer to a passage of scripture (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 98) about the need to seek elected leaders who are "wise," "honest" and "good." It was so hard for me to keep a straight face when I read that given my personal feelings about some of the candidates at the time. I don't think life has gotten any easier for bishops since then.

Here is part of Section 98:
6 Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;
7 And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.
8 I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.
9 Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.
10 Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.
Wise words indeed!

As a nation, our respect for personal integrity and moral character seems to be at a low. Scoundrels can be our celebrities, our leaders, and our heroes, and those who are uncomfortable with that are often put down for being judgmental and intolerant. Ultimately, it was the moral character - in spite of many flaws - among our Founding Fathers that propelled them to risk their lives and their fortunes for the freedom of this land. It is the moral character of wise leaders that we need more than ever in business, in politics, in religion, and our own families and lives.

Character is especially critical for religious leaders. A leader can be great in administration and record keeping, but if he or she loses the trust of the people, effectiveness is shot and great harm can be done. All mortals are fallible, of course, so this sometimes happens - tragically.

Character matters. The rest can be learned or, to be more trendy, outsourced.

9 comments:

Dan and Wendy said...

Well said. I remember hearing on a sports talk show many years ago, "If you're not cheating you're not trying," and, "It's only cheating if you get caught." That's a sad statement, especially in light of the steroid scandal rocking baseball at the moment.

The same holds true is politics. Why do so many people feel so disenfranchised by the political process? Because we don't trust government to put the people's interests before their own.

I read an article today in Newsweek about some dishonest stuff John McCain has been saying. Within about thirty minutes, I'm sure that I could find similar articles about most of the candidates, I'm not trying to diss McCain too much, though he is from my state and I expect better from my politicians...

Honesty, and integrity matter. To quote Captain Jack Sparrow, "You can always expect a dishonest person to act dishonestly."

I plan to vote for the candidate I believe to be the most honest. If I were to wake up tomorrow to a story scandalizing that candidate, with sufficient evidence of his dishonesty, I'll pick someone else.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,

For once I find myself actually agreeing with a posting you've made, will wonders never cease. Character in religious leaders as well as political leaders is something that must happen.

When we're talking about character, perhaps its helpful to delve into what that really is. That leads me to something my father taught me many years ago. That is that we enter this world with very few things that we can truly call our own. God gives us gifts and talents and the ability to create our character, he doesn't create our character for us. Looking at it from that perspective, the only thing we truly own is our character, its the only aspect of who we are that we control. As part of our character necessarily included is our integrity. Without integrity in our dealings with others, we lack credibility. So when we're talking about character in a christian sense, we should be looking to examples of folks with good character. Ruth, Mary, Peter, Paul, the various apostles, and of course Christ himself. Just wanted to add that to the discussion.

Catholic Defender

chad said...

I think good character in our leaders is important as well. It not only encompasses honesty and integrity and wisdom but it also includes such high moral standards as peace and fairness, equality and justice. While I watch the presidential primary contests on both sides of the isle I am looking for the people I think maintain the best character.

I am leaning toward Barack Obama on one side and Mike Huckabee on the other as good examples of character. These two gentlemen though they are different in many political ways both seem to have good character, a moral understanding of right and wrong, and a message of an America that can be better.

Doc said...

It is a very good question as to what character is. I think in the end it is being true to ourselves and the divine within us, in spite of our flaws. I found a beautiful post about this referencing Martin Luther King, Jr as a man with definite flaws, but triumphant character. It is written from a Jewish perspective and is very insightful.

Tim Malone, MCSE said...

In my scripture reading this morning I went back to the earliest chapters of the Book of Mormon and read once again how Zoram became a member of Lehi's family when they left Jerusalem. Nephi swore to him with an oath that he need not fear and that if he would make an oath with them to go with them that he would be a free man from that day forward.

I have always found it amazing what Nephi wrote concerning the conclusion of this exchange of oaths. He said, "And it came to pass that when Zoram had made an oath unto us, our fears did cease concerning him." What a different world this would be if men took their oaths seriously and kept them with exactness and honor. The President of the US takes an oath, doesn't he?

Clean Cut said...

I agree with everything you said. I wish this would be talked about more in politics today (however foreign that might seem). Or at least talked about more around the dinner table and even in our nations classrooms. In terms of presidents, it's the ones with some of the greatest character that we remember as being the greatest-Washington & Lincoln come to mind as hero's who made made this a top priority. I marvel at what they accomplished because of their core character, despite their weaknesses and flaws.

NM said...

Hmm. Jeff, I agree with most of what you have said (if I'm understanding you correctly). And yes, we do live in a world, which is desperate to see a people who exude integrity, honesty etc.

(Good) character, through sheer self-determination, is possible to attain, but the truth of who we are is that we are all liars, we all seek to benefit ourselves, even at the expense of others.

I also agree with you that we are mere mortals who are fallible. What would be more beautiful to see is someone who is in a position of 'authority' (be it a religious leader or president) openly admits that they do not have a good, honest character, and be in a state of complete humility to those whom (s)he serves.

So, instead of fighting against our true character (that we are fallible creatures), why not embrace it and then be open about it. That to me, is 'good character'...

Anonymous said...

While I think character is important I would hardly say that most of our great leaders, particularly great political leaders, have been without major character flaws. (Two great founding fathers, Jefferson and Franklin, were both guilty to some extent of philandery, for example). The difference I think is that character flaws are harder to hide more than ever before with recording devices and a media which unabashedly exposes such information. I think ultimately while we must seek good character in leaders and absolutely insist that our leaders not be swayed by personal favors to go against the public welfare we also must accept that we have had excellent leaders with what most people consider to be considerable personal flaws.

AH said...

You are spot-on Jeff. I believe it was Stephen Covey who said that 90% of all management failures stem from character failures. I think the other 10% was from incompetence. I have found this true time and time again in the business world--or any facet of life. Character counts!