If there is any formula for sustainable, holistic (personal and professional) success, it is this:

Character + Competence = Success

As a coach who specializes in working with C-suite executives and their spouses, I focus primarily on character.

Why? Two reasons:

  • Reason One: Character is essential to sustainable, holistic growth and success. You can get by on competence alone for only so long. Without character, you begin to suffer from a lack of balance in your life. You become one-dimensional — all work and no play. Relationships both at work and outside work, which make you successful and make life enjoyable and fulfilling, begin to suffer. You expend more and more time and energy solving problems than taking advantage of opportunities and enjoying the fruits of your labor. As a result, you fall short of achieving success in all areas of your life, and you find life more frustrating and less satisfying. In addition, your level of professional success is likely to plateau and may even decline.
  • Reason Two: Competence among professionals is assumed, while character is often neglected. When I say, “competence is assumed,” I mean competence is expected and necessary to secure a given position. You won’t make the first cut if you don’t have the expertise to fill the position. When I say, “character is often neglected,” I am highlighting the fact that professionals often invest sufficiently in developing the knowledge and skills required for a certain position, but spend little, if any, time and other resources developing their character. They often do not even know how to go about doing so.

In this post, I explain why I spend far more time with my clients exploring and developing character than exploring and developing competence, but first, let’s agree on a definition of “character.”

What is character?

The dictionary definition of character is the sum total of an individual’s personality, behavioral traits, values, history, and reputation. It is what makes a person likeable, respectable, and trustworthy (or unreliable, dishonest, and despicable). A business leader’s character determines the level of respect and loyalty he or she earns from customers and employees. On a personal level, character determines, to a great extent, the level of enjoyment and fulfillment attained in any relationship by all parties in that relationship, along with whatever that relationship produces.

Although I certainly agree with the dictionary definition of “character,” I like to get more specific with clients by following Townsend Leadership’s Competency Plus Character Leadership Growth Model, as illustrated below.

Competency Plus Character Leadership Growth Model

This model is based on how people naturally develop character, from birth to adulthood. Basically, character is developed in four stages:

  • Relationship (Attachment): At this most fundamental level, the individual establishes an intimate relationship with his or her primary caregiver; this typically occurs by the age of three years old. Later in life, attachment is reflected in the person’s ability to expose his or her vulnerabilities with trusted individuals in a safe environment. Some people have never experienced attachment and need to experience it later in life. Others may need to re-experience it; for example, after being seriously “burned” in a close relationship.
  • Responsibility (Separation): Think of this stage as the teenage years, when an individual declares his or her independence from parents. This stage is characterized by clarity of what one wants, needs, likes, and dislikes, and by assertive self-expression. At this stage, a person can say “no” even under pressure, leads with presence and truth, and can confront others directly and respectfully.
  • Reality (Integration): Think of this stage as the young adult years, when an individual progresses from independence to interdependence. At this stage, a person is able to feel the emotional consequences associated with change, loss, failure, and negative realities, and then process, adapt to, and learn from them.
  • Readiness (Adulthood): This is the stage at which character and competence come together and the individual becomes a productive member of society. This person has a clear mission and is aware of his or her relevant gifts and talents. Readiness is characterized by a solid work ethic, an ability to succeed with others in an authority structure, and a healthy view of gender and sexuality issues.

Note that this model is very useful not only for character development but also for evaluating candidates to fill positions in an organization. When evaluating candidates, try to assess their stage of character development. Keep in mind that developing skills and knowledge is often much easier than developing character. You may decide to hire more for character and less for competence.

Character development

As an executive and performance coach, I help my clients discover first the areas of character growth and development that need to be experienced or re-learned. We then set specific, actionable, and measurable objectives toward achieving the targeted level of character growth. I recommend no more than three to four monthly objectives, which may be professional, personal, or a combination of the two.

Each objective is tied to weekly assignments (homework). Part of each coaching session involves reviewing the assignments to ensure accountability and progress toward the monthly objectives. Coaching sessions also include revisiting and, if necessary, redefining monthly objectives. I take the same approach to monthly objective as I do to New Year’s resolutions, which have been proven to last about a month — they need to be revisited and redefined monthly.

Character growth homework may include focusing on one area of strength and a corresponding weakness and then listing specific actions to achieve the desired objective. For example, a client may say: “I am very effective when setting boundaries with my employees, but have trouble setting them with my children. This month I will write down the specifics related to when and why this happens with my children and how I handled each situation.”

In addition to one-on-one coaching, I often recommend and coordinate small group support specifically to enhance character development. Small groups provide the opportunity for participants to state their objectives and report their progress toward meeting them — and ultimately meeting their objective-related goal — at each meeting. Achievements are measured and celebrated at each meeting. The group setting, along with having group members serve as sponsors, provides the encouragement and accountability that has been proven to exponentially increase the likelihood of continued success.

If you haven’t worked on developing character in yourself or other key personnel in your organization, I strongly encourage you to do so. You will reap unimagined benefits in terms of both productivity and innovation as everyone develops their own brand of personal and relationship wisdom and skills necessary to bring peace and order to their lives — both at work and at home.

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About the Author: Jan Moorad, a former Deloitte management consultant and Major League Baseball team partner, is a Newport Beach, Calif.-based executive coach who helps C-Suite executives and their spouses pursue and achieve personal and professional fulfillment.