In this episode, I share a story with my audience about character — such a heavy word. Is good character something you are born with, or something that evolves over time, or maybe it’s something that can be alternating as you go through life?
These are the six elements of what I’ve come to call character:
- 1) Intelligence: Applying critical thinking skills to problems and challenges, separating how one thinks about something from what one feels about it. Aptitude for learning, the ability to quickly discern and apply patterns and identify distinctions
- 2) Drive or Assertiveness: The ability to identify the need for and to create urgency, a goal orientation, moving through and around obstacles that block others, finding ways to make something happen, rather than creating excuses why something can’t happen.
- 3) Happiness: Happiness isn’t merely about the fortunate circumstances life brings us by chance, but our ability to create “synthetic” happiness, which we often dismiss negatively as rationalization. For example, my getting fired was one of the best things that ever happened to me, just as a broken arm or a missed flight may be one of yours.
- 4) Empathy: A strict part of strong character and virtuous life is the ability to put yourself in others’ shoes and understand how they feel. The extension of kindness and genuine regard for others is a wonderful character trait. This is why passive-aggressive behavior reflects weak character because it is malicious and seeks to undermine others or to put you on top of others.
- 5) Reciprocity & Friendship: The ability to give as well as take to contribute as much benefit is a strong element of character. Introversion is not a negative, but the unwillingness to help others and to create friendships.
- 6) Intimacy: Strong character demands the ability to form loving bonds and to allow for vulnerability. The people we coach who make the most progress the fastest are comfortable exposing their fears and weaknesses. People who are incapable of creating strong, intimate bonds in their lives are affected by a key character flaw.
In this episode, you’ll find out my scores, and then I will ask you to rate yourself on each on a 1-5 scale. I think this is a really neat exercise on character, and I hope you’ll enjoy it!
Full transcript below.
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character, reciprocity, life, circumstances, ability, happiness, people, podcast, empathy, intelligence, marshalls, definition, elements, newsletter, describes, number, create, intimacy, friendships, challenges
Mike Malatesta 00:15
Hey, everybody, welcome back to another solo Friday edition of the “How’d It Happen Podcast.” Today I am going to talk to you and share a story with you about character. Character. It’s a heavy word, character is something that I think everyone wants, everyone wants good character. I think most people believe that they have good character, but I’m not quite sure that people really understand what good character is. And I also struggle with whether good character is something you are born with, or something that evolves over time, or is something that can be alternating as you go through your life. Like sometimes you have good character, and sometimes you don’t have good character. And I’m going to go through a little exercise today that I first read in a newsletter that Marshall Goldsmith puts out. He is, I believe, pretty much recognized as one of the great coaches for leaders. He’s probably one of the most well-known coaches for leaders. I get his newsletter every week and, and when I got this newsletter that I’m going to share with you and go through today about character, it really got me thinking, because I had never seen a framework that I’m going to go through with you like he laid out in his newsletter. But again, I’ve always been uncertain when someone says the word character, what they really mean, and completely separate of this newsletter, and what I’m going to share with you today. But in the interim between when I first saw this, and when I recording this podcast, when I first saw Marshall’s thing and when I’m recording this podcast, I was listening to another podcast. And a fellow provided a definition of character that I thought was like super, super clear. And his definition of character was “an indelible principle of right and wrong, a moral compass you won’t deviate from, an indelible principle of right and wrong, a moral competence you won’t deviate from.” And when I heard that, I wrote it down as I was in the car, and I wrote that definition down as this fellow said it because I was like, Ah, finally, someone has written something that you know, is super clear about character and but then when I was thinking about it, I thought to myself, boy an indelible principle of right and wrong.
Well, I, I feel like I have good character, but I’ve definitely had many challenges, right and wrong challenges as I’ve gone through life. That might bring my character into question. And then the second part a moral compass you won’t deviate from? Well, I’ve definitely had that. Not one that I won’t deviate from ,one that I would deviate from. And if you’ve read my book, “Owner Shift,” you’ve had a chance to see what some of those moral compass challenges have been for me in my life. So I was really excited about the definition. I thought to myself, well, I don’t think I could apply that definition to me. And so if I feel like I have good character, and I can’t apply that definition to me, how do I reconcile that? How do I keep moving forward? And the other thing about character before I get into Marshall’s thing is that it’s always been amazing to me how easily it is for someone to assume that their character is good while also judging other people’s character to be not so good. I’ve always wondered that because you can observe another person how they operate, and you can make judgments or opinions about their character. And I don’t think that’s unfair to do that. But when it comes to ourselves, I always feel like Joe Polish has a quote that he says, “We have expectations for other people, but for ourselves, we have intentions.” And when it comes to character, I think, well, if I intend to have good character, then I don’t really need to demonstrate why.
So let me get into Marshall’s thing. It’s a literal exercise, and he breaks it down into six elements. And I think it’s, I think it’s worth going through and I hope you agree. Most of us think of leaders as people of character; they aren’t people who live vicariously through others, but people who live their own lives and lead by example. What exactly do we mean by character? Character evolves, circumstances change. What worked in one situation is unsuccessful in another. We take our definition from Robespierre, who claims that no man can step outside the shadow of his own character. The Shadow walks beside you. And we add to it that we believe the shadow changes because of our growth, and the angle of the light.
Here are six elements of what we’ve come to call character. They are (1) intelligence, (2) drive or assertiveness, (3) happiness, (4) empathy, (5) reciprocity, and (6) intimacy. And here’s how he defines each of those:
Intelligence– the ability to apply critical thinking skills to problems and challenges, separating how one thinks about something from what one feels about it. Aptitude for learning, the ability to quickly discern and apply patterns and identify distinctions. So that’s intelligence.
Number two — Drive or Assertiveness. The ability to identify the need for and to create urgency, a goal orientation, moving through and around obstacles that block others, finding ways to make something happen, rather than creating excuses why something can’t happen.
Number three, Happiness. Happiness isn’t merely about the fortunate circumstances life brings us by chance, but our ability to create “synthetic” happiness, which we often dismiss negatively as rationalization. For example, my getting fired was one of the best things that ever happened to me, just as a broken arm or a missed flight, may be one of yours.
Number four, Empathy. Part of a strict part of strong character and a virtuous life is the ability to put yourself in other shoes and understand how they feel. The extension of kindness and a genuine regard for others is a wonderful character trait. This is why passive-aggressive behavior reflects weak character because it is malicious and seeks to undermine others or to put you on top of others. That’s my little addition.
Number five, Reciprocity and Friendship. The ability to give as well as take to contribute as much benefit is a strong element of character. Introversion is not a negative, but the unwillingness to help others and to create friendships. Healthy people maintain friendships. Although they frequently change with our circumstances.
And number six, Intimacy – strong character demands the ability to form loving bonds, and to allow for vulnerability. The people we coach who make the most progress the fastest are those who are comfortable exposing their fears and weaknesses. Being vulnerable in front of others. Being capable of creating strong, intimate bonds in their lives. People who are incapable of creating strong, intimate bonds in their lives are affected by a key character flaw.
So those are the six: intelligence, drive/assertiveness, happiness, empathy, reciprocity, and intimacy. So now there’s a little test that you have to take on those six to rate yourself. So I’m going to take you through my own rating of those six — it’s a one-to-five scale. And here are the ratings. Number one: I can’t really say that this is at all like me. Number two: occasionally I could be described this way. Number three: in some circumstances, I’m always like this. Number four: this usually describes me. And number five: I’m like this, meaning all the time.
So here’s my score. Number one is Intelligence. And I rated myself at four, this usually describes me. Number two is Drive. Again, I rated myself a four. This usually describes me. Number three, Happiness. I also rated myself a number four on this — this usually describes me. Number four, Empathy. I rated myself a number three on this: in some circumstances, I’m always like this. Number five, Reciprocity. I rated myself a four, I’m usually like this, this usually describes me; and Intimacy — I kind of split the baby here. In the first half of my life, I felt occasionally this describes me. And in the second half of my life, I felt this usually describes me. And I believe that’s true and is based on the product of my own evolution, through the challenges that I’ve had with my life and with character in particular.
He goes on to say, we’re not asking you to total these elements, because the point is to raise each of them to the maximum level, there is no total score above which you are fine. If any of the individual ones are low — our feeling is that a four or five is needed in each element — which, if any, are your weak points? Well, as I mentioned, mine is empathy and intimacy, at least in the first half of my life, for sure.
So then Marshall goes on to give you some tips about how to build character. So that you can move all these, each of these six elements, up. And here’s his recommendation: Intelligence: read widely and diversely, including fiction, history, biography, science, and philosophy. Don’t allow social media to be your news source. Try to solve word and math problems. Practice writing your opinions in a blog or newsletter, or a podcast. Then move to letters to the editor and op-ed pieces. In other words, challenge yourself to argue your point.
Number two – Drive: create short-term deadlines. Identify two priorities a day. For example, a personal and a professional that must be completed. Use a calendar to record your metrics for progress by predetermined dates. Don’t look for blame. Find the causes of obstacles and then work to remove them. Don’t rely on others or wait for others. Take control of your route to your goals. That’s really smart.
Number three – Happiness: Find the silver lining in any circumstance, convince yourself that failing is a learning experience, and that failing is far better than never trying. Make the best of situations. If your travel connection is missed, for example, use the time to call friends or prospects. Or to write a proposal you’ve been meaning to get to, buy a book you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up. At the beginning of the day, remind yourself of why you’re going to make it a great one. And at the end of the day, review what went well, no matter how minor.
Number four – empathy: Think about similar circumstances you’ve experienced as you listen to someone else. Try not to make judgments, but to listen and understand. Don’t position yourself as a teacher but rather as a colleague. Ask for more details. Even if you believe you’ve understood the circumstances, encourage the other person to talk. I would also add, ask questions. Ask them what they want.
Number five – Reciprocity: Identify how you would like to be treated if you were the other person. Don’t hesitate to give more than you’ve received. Don’t expect a thank you for something that you’re doing as a courtesy, or to help accept the fact that reciprocity doesn’t have to be immediate in all cases. I think there’s some great stuff there, especially the don’t expect something in return. If you’re doing something because you’re expecting something in return, especially for a friend or person as opposed to a business relationship, like I’m giving you this and it cost this much unexpected cash in return. You can be really disappointed when someone doesn’t return some favor or some recipe to give you some appropriate or equivalent reciprocity back.
And number six – Intimacy: Be willing to talk about defeats and setbacks. Call a failure, a failure. Ask others you trust what reactions and advice they have. Be open to hearing another’s burning issues, even if you consider them to be trivial or irrelevant. Proactively ask for help and opinions. Make an effort to stop being embarrassed by personal questions and expressions of personal feelings. That one really hits home for me because, as I mentioned, when I took the quiz, I felt like for the first half my life, occasionally I did those things, but often I ran away from them. Often, I hid them. I didn’t want to admit failure. I certainly didn’t want to be embarrassed. I didn’t even want to admit I didn’t know something.
So anyway, I just think that was kind of a neat exercise on character. It was something that as I mentioned, it does provide ideas for growth. And no matter where you are, I’m quite sure that when no one would find out, when no one is looking and when no one would find out, I doubt that we’re all living character at the highest possible level we can, so I hope you took something positive away from today’s episode. I do appreciate and thank you for investing your time and your energy in my podcasts. If you like this, please consider sharing it with your friends. And if you are not a subscriber to the podcast, please consider subscribing or following it and if you do so, you’ll get every episode sent to you ready to be listened to automatically Until next time, maximize your greatness