We’ve all been there. Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, slowly inching your way forward, when you notice a car at a stop sign with their blinker on, patiently trying to turn in to traffic. One by one, the drivers in front of you do everything they can to block that car from entering their lane.
When it’s your turn to approach the car sitting at the stop sign, you politely stop your vehicle and motion the driver to turn in ahead of you. They quickly take you up on your kind offer, and whip their car into traffic. As they pull in front of you, your eyes scan the driver side window, then glance over to the right at the open space between the headrests of the two front seats, all in attempt to see a simple hand gesture expressing gratitude for your kindness. But it never comes.
While it’s easy to get annoyed or even angry at that person for not recognizing your kind gesture, you should stop and ask yourself WHY you let the car into traffic in the first place. Did you only do it so you could be recognized for being a kind and considerate person? Or did you do it because it was simply the right thing to do?
Integrity and moral character are the absolute cornerstones of real leadership. John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach who won a record 10 national championships over a 12-year span, summed it up this way: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” To put it another way, you can’t fake character; it’s who you are.
Character is defined by doing the right things, the right way, for the right reasons.
The Right Things
Life comes at you at fast. Real fast. As a leader, you must put time and effort into your priorities. To ensure you have adequate time to invest in those priorities, you must plan and execute your day with purpose.
When faced with a decision, your mind and body scream at you, telling you to do whatever it takes to alleviate the stress and pain that you’re feeling at that moment. If you consistently make stressed-out, painful short-term decisions, that’s what your life will become—stressed and painful.
That’s why it’s so critical to remember just how important doing the right thing really is. Each decision you make, no matter how small, is creating your future.
The Right Way
Next, you must do the right things the right way. Growing up, my father always told me to measure twice and cut once. He still does, because I still struggle with patience all these years later. Oftentimes, my impatience leads me to just jump in, put my head down, and go to work. However, as I’ve learned the hard way time and time again, when I take shortcuts and get things wrong, I have to start over, which requires more effort and takes more time than if I had just done it right the first time.
Again, quoting John Wooden, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?”
The Right Reasons
Finally, do what you do for the right reasons. Let’s go back to that car at the stop sign, waiting for someone to let them into traffic. Were you only interested in being recognized for your generosity? Or did you do what’s right because it was the right thing to do? To get to the heart of character, take time to reflect on what really drives you to do what you do day-in and day-out. As Coach Wooden also said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” It’s not about recognition, just about what’s right.
In the morning when you first look at yourself in the mirror, ask yourself: “What kind of person am I going to be today?” Use this morning ritual to focus on the day ahead, to plan your day with purpose. And at the end of the day, look in the mirror again and ask yourself: “What kind of person was I today? Did I do the right things, the right way, for the right reasons?”
As a leader, a friend, a spouse, you need to be true to who you are. You need to live your life with integrity, always striving to do the Right things, the Right way, for the Right reasons.