One of my clients and her husband, Cheryl and Michael Heller, have created a unique way of teaching their daughter Annebeth two important lessons: money management and the importance of “giving back.” They require her to divide her weekly allowance into three parts. Annebeth gets to keep and spend 60%; she must save/invest 20%; she gives the remaining 20% to charity. What kind of adult will this kid grow up to be with parents teaching her lessons like that?! You know the answer.

Bobby Greenburg and I go way back. His former boss was one of my first clients at Capital One several years ago. Last year, as a marketing executive at Lincoln Financial in Philadelphia, Bobby himself became a client of mine. In addition to our business relationship, we share a fanaticism for the Washington Redskins. (Does that make us masochists?) In December at the ‘Skins game with the Vikings, Bobby introduced me to his eight-year-old son. He firmly shook my hand, looked me squarely in the eye, and expressed his pleasure at meeting me without the embarrassment, distraction and foot shuffling that most kids exhibit when meeting an adult stranger. The next week at our regularly scheduled discussion, I asked Bobby: “So, your son shaking my hand firmly and locking onto my eyes, you taught him that?” “Yep,” he answered. I know what kind of parents Bobby and Heather Greenburg are from that one gesture. I also know what kind of young man they’re raising.

These are adults of character raising children of character. It’s my great fortune to work with many people like Cheryl and Bobby.

When I raise the subject of “character” as a necessary ingredient in effective leadership, HR executives frequently bob their heads in agreement. When I ask these executives how they “screen” for character attributes when hiring or promoting leaders, many of them wilt. They feel self-conscious, or pretentious, or sanctimonious talking about it. When they do discuss it, they do so as if “character” is a single attribute rather than a cluster of behaviors and actions.

Here’s my take:

Many people regard character and integrity as synonymous. Integrity does not represent the totality of character; it is one of its essential elements. I define character as the cluster of personal attributes that are unshakeable. They determine the actions we take and the behavior we demonstrate when confronted with seemingly irresistible temptation, overwhelming odds or insurmountable challenges. They represent who we are and what we do when no one is looking. Some of the most predominant attributes of character are courage, endurance, persistence, perseverance, hopefulness, faith, trust, gratitude, honesty, integrity, tolerance, enthusiasm, loyalty, and the one I see as a precondition to all human development: discipline.

I frequently get calls from senior executives who want me to work with their “subordinates” (I hate this term, but I’m using it here for clarity) on issues that have their roots in “character defects.” Oh sure, they reveal themselves in behaviors like “a rough engagement style” (corporate speak for “they don’t play well with others”) or “an inability or disinclination to collaborate productively,” and they frequently have very deep roots. In some cases, especially those in which executive dysfunction is because “they don’t know any better,” I can help. In others, especially those evolving out of a person’s hard wiring or childhood conditioning, change is more difficult.

My recommendations to company leaders on the best ways to attract, reward and retain people of character follow:

  • Aggressively triage for character when hiring and promoting, especially candidates being considered for leadership positions.
  • Identify and clarify aspects of character that are important, and train and communicate what they look like (very specifically and repeatedly) in practice.
  • Greet repeated violations with disdain and eventual (and I’m not talking about years) termination.
  • Make attributes of character (again, in a very granular way) a fundamental part of performance assessments – from the Chairman on down.
  • Acknowledge their own shortcomings in a humble and public way so as not to convey the sense that they regard themselves as “the perfect embodiment of all things virtuous.”

Copyright 2011 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit