How to Grow Your Character Muscles

How do we find success at work and fulfillment in life? The answers have nothing to do with achievement and everything to do with character.

I recently had the privilege of discussing the strong correlation between success and ethics with Dr. Jim Loehr, a world renowned performance psychologist and cofounder of the Johnson and Johnson Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Florida.

Jim came to study leadership by way of performance in high stress environments that didn’t compromise a person’s health or happiness. He coined his findings Leadership with Character.

“It's clear there are lots of ways to win in business and sport, but what we learned is when you win with character, it provides a runway for more sustainable well being and stable self-esteem,” Jim said.

There's no question that the moral and ethical character is the highest priority." – Dr. Jim Loehr TWEET

Showing kindness, integrity, trustworthiness, humility and respect for others requires not just competency but also a deep sense of connection to others.

The reverse is true also – leaders who lack character and connection to others are susceptible to feeling unfulfilled.

“When people don't get the expected satisfaction from some big accomplishment they've been chasing, rather than trying to look at this more deeply, they simply double down and they chase the next achievement challenge,” Jim said. Despite impressive resumes, people who fall into this trap still feel a nagging sense of incompleteness.

Jim believes this lack of fulfilment happens when people fail to realize that character has two components:

1. Performance Character

Performance character refers to the things that drive you to achieve. Someone with strong performance character could be described as focused, persistent, resilient, confident, positive, decisive, courageous or tough-minded.

However, performance character doesn’t have any morality attached to it. It lacks a relational component.

2. Moral Character

Moral character is a term for the character qualities that emphasize interpersonal skills. These include moral integrity, honesty, kindness, trustworthiness, humility, compassion, gratefulness, generosity, love, empathy and loyalty.

A good leader, one who feels fulfilled by her achievements at the end of her life, needs to balance performance character and moral character.

“If you have all the moral and ethical character, but you don't have any performance character strengths, you don't accomplish much in life,” Jim said. “But if I had to place a priority, there's no question that the moral and ethical character is the highest priority.”

So how do you become a healthy leader with a brilliant portfolio of ethical and moral strengths?

Exercising Character Muscles

Character traits are like muscles – if you exercise them, they’ll get stronger.

“A moral challenge is an opportunity to do some weight lifting in the areas of your life that are going to be the most important,” Jim said. “You simply have to find a routine just like you do in the gym. You invest the energy in it, you keep a record of it, and you do it repeatedly followed by recovery.”

Jim gave a practical example of an exercise regimen a family could engage in together.

“Let's say you want to build the muscle of kindness with your children at home,” he said. “At the dinner table each Friday, every member of the family has to report at least one or two acts of kindness they committed during the week and how it made them feel.”

All week long, you're looking at ways that you can do an act of kindness because you're going to be held accountable for it on Friday. As you invest energy in the dynamic of kindness, it will start to grow.

 “We win with character and we lose with character. It's all about character.” – Dr. Jim Loehr TWEET

Servant Leadership

How we spend our lives is the foundation of our identity. Leaders with character who invest in others – the ones we call servant leaders – are the ones who are most fulfilled.

An athlete could choose to identify with her score, world ranking or number of trophies. Similarly, a business person could choose to identify with how much money he makes, his titles or his statistics.

But that identity is fragile due to lack of control. “When you can't control the things that give you the sense that you have value in life, that creates a real existential angst,” Jim said.

Instead, base your identity on things that you can control. Work every day to become more skilled at helping other people find their sense of purpose in life and to fulfill a purpose that's bigger than themselves.

When this begins, Jim said something “magical” happens.

“Those deep psychological needs for self-worth and connection to others are met in a profound way,” he said. “You begin to realize that the more you give away, the better your world gets.”

“We lead with character first and foremost, become true servant leaders by example, and we win with character and we lose with character. It's all about character,” Jim said.

If you'd like to get in touch with Jim, contact him.

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