Character Still Counts

The Path to Greater Influence


Last month, we explored how chemistry is the first of the four tumblers that lock up influence. This month, we tackle the second key element: character, which, along with chemistry, forms the relational aspect of trust.

Recently, I worked with a leader struggling with an employee’s engagement at work. The leader thought the team member was lazy and job-hunting, despite their immense previous demonstrated value. Instead of taking drastic action, the leader communicated their loss of trust and influence. The team member, surprised, revealed they were dealing with intense personal issues. Understanding this, the relationship improved, and the leader offered better support. This taught the leader that character matters deeply and that asking deeper questions is crucial.

When evaluating character, we ask key questions about integrity and motives. In the story above once it came to light why the person was no longer acting congruently with previous performance trust was restored. Integrity, linked to "integer," means a whole, undivided number. Someone with integrity acts consistently and wholly. We are attracted to people of integrity because of their reliability. Conversely, we feel disappointed when leaders we respect lack integrity.

Another critical question is, "Are you for me or for yourself?" We quickly judge someone's character by assessing their motives. When given the choice we prefer being around people who are for us and take an interest in our success.  It becomes evident if someone is just looking out for themselves. For example, consider a car salesperson who's only interested in selling versus one who takes time to your needs and might even recommend a competitor. The latter shows genuine concern and undivided character while the former salesperson is just looking to make the commission.

While we can quickly make snap judgments, we learned from the leader above that those judgments are not always correct.  It can take time to assess someone’s character.  Look for how they are accountable to others and allow others to give them feedback on certain situations.  Find consistencies in their life.  Do they act one way on Monday through Friday and then on the weekends they are a completely different person?  Observe how they bring empathy, generosity, and respect to relationships.  These are markers of someone with a character worthy of being trusted.

Beware of the trap of character judgments, as the leader from our story learned. We often ignore our flaws while scrutinizing others. This is the fundamental attribution error—attributing others’ mistakes to character while excusing our own. For instance, if someone is late, we might label them irresponsible without considering other factors. Yet, when we are late, we seldom question our character.

This month, pay attention to how you evaluate character, including your own. Are you showing others that you are for them, not just for yourself? When you have a genuine concern for others, you build a foundation of trust that enhances your leadership and strengthens your team, your family, your friends, and the community in which you live.