What gift can we all possess that costs nothing, but is worth everything? That we can demonstrate daily, but lose in seconds if we don't guard it carefully? That determines the quality of our relationships and directs our choices in life?
That great treasure is good character.
President Ronald Reagan focused on character in his 1993 commencement speech to the graduates at the Citadel in South Carolina.
"The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined," Reagan said. "It has been determined by a thousand other choices made earlier in seemingly unimportant moments.
"It has been determined by all the little choices of years past — by all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation, whispering the lie that it really doesn't matter. ... Because, when life does get tough, and the crisis is undeniably at hand — when we must, in an instant, look inward for strength of character to see us through — we will find nothing inside ourselves that we have not already put there."
A solid character foundation includes honesty, loyalty, respect and unselfishness. Let's take them one at a time.
Honesty. Telling the truth at all times builds character. Your word must be your bond. Complete honesty in little things is not a little thing at all.
Honesty, ethics, integrity, values, morals — all mean the same thing. In my estimation, you can interchange them, because they all convey the single attribute that determines whether a person or an organization can be trusted. If truth ever stands in your way, you are headed in the wrong direction.
Loyalty is royalty. The first quality I look for in employees or friends is loyalty. I would rather have a terrific employee work for us for a few years and be true to our company values than someone who shows up every day, punches the clock and hangs around just to collect a paycheck.
Respect. You must respect other people and their property. You don't have to fear your competition, but respect their abilities. Showing respect is not a sign of weakness — it's a show of strength. As baseball great Jackie Robinson said, "I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me. ... All I ask is that you respect me as a human being."
Unselfishness. The reason I love team sports is that players learn the power of teamwork and how to be unselfish, regardless of their individual abilities.
Character is revealed when pressure is applied. You have probably heard the saying that sports do not build character — they reveal it.
How a person plays the game shows something of their character; how they lose shows all of it. The same is true for business.
Hall of Fame college football coach Lou Holtz describes character this way: "The answers to three questions will determine your success or failure:
1. Can people trust me to do my best? 2. Am I committed to the task at hand? 3. Do I care about other people and show it?
"If the answers to these questions are yes, there is no way you can fail," Holtz said.
Helen Keller was born perfectly healthy, but was left completely blind and deaf when she suffered an illness as a toddler.
For five years she was isolated from the world until a special teacher named Anne Sullivan helped her fight back against her challenges.
Keller said: "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved."
Mackay's Moral: Character is what you are when no one is watching.
Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.