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FIRST-PERSON (Tom Hill): The country’s character crisis

Editor’s note: Tom Hill is the founder of Character First, an organization that promotes character building in workplaces and communities.

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–In the past six months, there has been significant media coverage on the lack of character in a few of this country’s elected officials. From repeated bad decisions to secrets hidden for years, poor character is not immune to anyone. While it’s unfortunate that the issues had to unfold on the 24-hour news cycle, I believe good character can be developed and lead to a change in behavior.

Many think that people are born with a certain amount of character. It is a trait, like eye color or a cleft chin. They will never have more or less character. They can’t add to it. They can’t change it.

Others say the majority of a person’s character is developed as a child. According to this theory, by age 10 or 12, character is cultivated and set for life. It cannot be appreciably added to or subtracted from. It seems to be a twist on the adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

I am an example of a person, however, whose character changed. Early in life, I regularly made poor character choices and did wrong things, even though I knew better. Few people who know me now would suspect this. Of course, my faith in Christ was the largest factor in changing my life. But to fully change and grow I needed involvement in church and interaction with people who modeled good character and encouraged me. The principle, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17) works in many contexts. Through the influence of others, my attitudes, words and actions improved. One character-changing step after another benefited my life and the lives of those around me. I know people can change, because I did it. And if I can, so can others.

Christian leaders can point to countless examples of people whose lives have been transformed by Christ and Christian influence. As the Bible says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Every organization, Christian or not, influences the character of its employees. The only question is, “Is the influence going to be good or bad?” Ministry, nonprofit, and business leaders can influence people to build good character if they are intentional about it.

Here are three steps organizations, churches and families can take to begin creating a culture of character in your organization. The goal is to make “Character First.”

1. Learn to recognize and praise good character: Managers have been taught to find problems and fix them. Character First teaches managers to look for the good character in individuals and praise them for it on a daily basis. Daily praise ties the actions of employees to character, teaches them what their manager appreciates, and inspires them to build character. Many surveys show that the No. 1 desire of employees is to know they are making a positive contribution to the organization and to be recognized for it. As leaders, if we learn to recognize and praise for character, we can meet that desire; but more importantly, we can inspire good character development.

2. Start a Character First employee meeting. Great leaders use every opportunity to cast vision. As a leader, you can cast the vision of the importance of character to your organization by establishing a mandatory monthly meeting to recognize employees for character and to teach character. Character First has gleaned the best practices from companies around the world on how these meetings effectively promote a culture of character.

3. Be intentional about teaching character: You can’t force people to change their character, but you can inspire them to build their character. Most people never think about character or what it means in their lives. Few companies ever address character issues with their employees. As leaders we must be intentional about the importance of character — motivating character and inspiring employees. Employees can then transfer what they learn into their attitudes, words and actions.

This is not another productivity program. Character First is a long-term paradigm change which focuses on helping every employee — from the top on down — to be more successful not only at work but also at home, church and community. We must make character first if our society is to endure.
For more information, visit www.characterfirst.com. Tom Hill is chairman of the board of Oklahoma-based Kimray, Inc., and author of “Making Character First.”

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  • Tom Hill