Character’s Primary Ingredient is Humility

Posted: July 19, 2015 by Tom Heuer in Culture, Leadership, People, Startup

Tom Heuer, Miami University Center for EntrepreneurshipRecently, I was thinking about the people who really made a difference in my life. A few mental pictures popped into my mind. As I remembered these individuals, one very important ingredient emerged – humility. All were individuals of the highest character. Their personal character was why I listened intently to and believed their message. As I matured, character was also the reason why I chose not to be mentored by certain people. It was difficult to embrace their message when I experienced their self-serving attitude in every situation. Their life motto was “my way is the right way.”

My mentors’ character was forged by embracing humility as life’s most critical success factor. (Humility is often defined as not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.) In every situation, they put the heart and soul of others ahead of themselves. They never did coaching to gratify themselves; it was always about “what can I provide Tom that will make him a better person.” They were known to perform sacrificial feats with the same modest, every day spirit. They were totally committed to understanding what needs done and moving forward with it. They were kind, calm, and very competent with one single desire – make people better. Sure, this was not always the case. A diminished self-centeredness and the development of a selfless attitude started with a valley experience. Humility became their calling card. Character became synonymous with their names.

Successful entrepreneurs and high-performing corporate leaders radiate character in every situation. For them, being the best in the world is not the aspiration. Their efforts always focus on being the best for the world. Their dance with humility brought them to this high character level. My college students have just started understanding what character is and how it contributes to a fulfilling life. Most successful entrepreneurs have descended into the abyss multiple times. As they were picking themselves up, support came from unexpected people and places. Their character was built gradually every day. They know now that humility is an essential ingredient. Finally, corporate executives struggle with character-building decisions. Most have not let go of self-centeredness. This leads to selfish decisions and ultimately, stubborn pride. In the end, the lack of character allows executives to oversell their strengths, dismiss their faults and use employees to handle their dirty work. For some, humility will eventually find a pathway to their heart. Then and only then will character have an opening.

Leadership needs to recognize character as the critical success factor it is for their organization. Building a culture of character in companies, start-ups, universities, churches, homes, etc. is a proposition marked by perseverance and patience. Here is a path for character to find its way into your company:

  • Make character a non-negotiable part of your culture for all employees. Provide a clear definition as to what character looks like in your company. Every senior leader must align their behaviors with the character definition.
  • Developing character is a journey in self-awareness. All senior and middle managers should “humble” themselves in self-awareness. Remember – Reality is your friend. Break through moments will occur as managers seek reality and listen to other people offer their feedback.
  • Treating all people with dignity and respect must become a behavior practiced by all managers and employees. This action will encourage selflessness versus self-centeredness. Humility will have a runway into the heart and soul of the organization.
  • Recruiting for character should be an important talent acquisition strategy. The interviewing and reference checking should have well-defined character checks. Every external recruit at all levels must pass the character checks.

Building an organization driven by character is difficult today. However, if you focus on one ingredient – humility – it may eventually happen for you. Your thoughts are valued by me. Contact me at heuertm@miamioh.edu.

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