char·ac·ter: noun: the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves
While Merriam Webster’s definition of character is pretty clear, its definition in the real world is a bit more fluid. A person with a strong character can look different in different situations.
Less than 50 percent of Americans believe government employees are doing an effective job running the country. A stat like that can test the character of any federal employee.
So how does government maintain a strong character in the face of adversity? And why is character so critical for future success?
Jack London is the executive chairman and chairman of the board of CACI International Incorporated – a professional services and IT solutions company. He is also the author of a new book, Character; the Ultimate Success Factor. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that, for him, character is defined as how a person behaves.
Writing a book on character was extremely important to London. “Over the last several decades there has been a significant erosion in the concept of character,” he explained. “Character is being forgotten in our society, our culture, our government and our business environment.”
Character builds trust
In order to govern effectively the public needs to have trust and faith that the government is doing things in the best interest of the public. But creating that trust is almost impossible, if the government’s character is being called into question. “Character is what holds our society together,” said London. “If we trust one another and can relate to one another then we can have a successful government. Trust is what holds our civilization together.”
It can be hard for government to prioritize character, when saving money and being efficient are often hallowed as “must-do’s.” London says that way of thinking is what got the Department of Veterans Affairs in trouble with patient records and the Defense Department’s continued struggle to deal with sexual assault cases. “They weren’t thinking with good character, they were trying to save time and money. They were focusing on the wrong priority,” said London.
It’s not just the government that needs to consider character in how they approach their work – so too do contractors. “I like to think of my industry, the contracting world, as in a partnership with the United States government,” London said. “We take the taxpayers’ money. We are charged with doing the best in a fiduciary sense to provide the goods and services we contracted for.You can have a signed contract, but there has to be more to it. There has to be a spirit and intent. These attributes are the concept of character.”
Four intangibles of leadership
In order to rebuild character, agency heads and managers can learn from London’s four intangibles of leadership – courage, conviction, integrity and vision.
“I chose those four attributes very carefully. People don’t work and support people they don’t trust. They respect people with courage and conviction and commitment and determination. They respect and work for people that have a vision and can communicate it and can lead and inspire and motivate and empower people,” said London. “Courage, conviction, integrity and vision are features that build strong leadership. These leaders can lead organizations and can lead our government.”
No secret recipe for character
While we can all agree that strong character and ethics is critical for government, we don’t all agree on what that character looks like – and London says that’s okay. “You can be a person of good character, of good intention and make what I think are some terrible business decisions,” London said. “Character is not a formula for success in the sense of wealth, but good character is a quality we can all own that no one can take from us.”
What do you think makes strong character? Let us know in the comment section.