Dr. Henry Cloud writes, in his book Integrity that integrity is “the courage to meet the demands of reality”. He expands on this further and defines character as the ability to:
- Establish and maintain trust
- See and face reality (oriented towards truth)
- Work in a way that brings results
- Embrace negative realities and solves them
- Cause growth and increase
- Achieve transcendence and meaning in life
Dr. Cloud argues that these characteristics must be functioning in order to fully utilize our gifts, talents, and abilities.
The starting point is to recognize and understand that everyone has deficiencies. No one is immune—not even that high performer that you are idolizing on LinkedIn, or whose books you pre-order. They too must work through their deficiencies to be that high performer. Most likely, it’s because they’ve put in this kind of behind the scenes effort that has propelled them to success.
How might they have done this?
Establishing and Maintaining Trust
This means that we will connect at an empathetic level. This goes beyond “win-win” in that I am saying I will continue to work towards your good, even if you don’t work towards mine. That doesn’t mean I will allow you to work against me unchecked, but it does mean that I will continue to work towards your welfare and growth as well.
See and Face reality
Dr. Cloud speaks about this in terms of how we orient ourselves, what we face. Picture the child who covers his head with his blanket because he’s afraid of the dark. He is deceiving himself on several levels, not least of which is the fact that he is creating a false reality, one that only exists in his head. He is not being truthful to himself about his fears or about the room around him. Only by opening his eyes, pulling his head from under the blanket, and staring into the dark corners of the room will he be able to conquer his fears… or else deal with the monster in the closet.
He also speaks about it in terms of a pursuit. We orient and then seek the truth about ourselves, others, and the world we live in. Do we seek the truth about ourselves? Do we want those things to be revealed for others to see? Think about how hard it is to admit that we made a mistake, that we don’t live up to someone else’s expectations. We don’t want the “truth” about us to be seen. We don’t want to “lose” the perception people have of us. Ironically, the value we would gain by admitting our faults would far outweigh any negative opinions that some might have of us at the time. This is another way that we don’t face reality.
If we are pursuing success, then we must face reality and embrace it. Success won’t be found under the blanket.
Work In A Way That Brings Results
It is often said (and I’ve said) that you can train skills, you can’t train character. This is actually more nuanced. You can’t train the character of those who don’t want to grow—they have to want it in order for it to work. Success is found not only in acquiring skills but by becoming the kind of person that can be successful and not fall apart under its demands.
This goes beyond hard work, but in being prepared, using resources effectively and efficiently (one way to do this is to say “no” often), the ability to execute plans, make difficult decisions, etc. This is done with the persistence to see it through and the ability to move easily past mistakes after absorbing their lessons.
Embrace the Negative
This is a hard one. Whether it’s that tough client, employee, boss, or circumstances we tend to avoid conflict and avoid pain. The immature person will use failure or a situation that negatively impacts them and deflect the blame to others. Embracing the negative means that we actively engage with and resolve whatever the problem is, instead of ignoring it or trying to make it someone else’s problem.
Cause Growth and Increase
One evidence of sound character is your growth and the things and people around you growing. This doesn’t mean that you don’t take risks. Growth is tied to risk. A farmer planting a field is taking a risk, the manufacturer building 100,000 widgets is taking a risk. But, without taking the risk, the reward (growth) is not possible. We should differentiate this from gambling.
Growth is best created by a disciplined approach. E.g. that farmer carefully considered the crops he would plant, how well they would grow in his geographic location, the time to plant, whether the conditions were favorable, and he worked tirelessly to maintain the field, and cultivate the crop as it grew towards harvest. If he didn’t do any of those things but didn’t have the discipline to see things out, the crop would have failed.
Achieve Transcendence and Meaning in Life
This could mean different things to different people. Dr. Cloud’s perspective is that this an overarching reality that informs how you move in the world. It’s ultimately about serving a purpose higher than our own. It’s to see other people beyond how they might serve me, but how I might serve them.
At GDI, Inc. we are constantly reading and looking for ways that we might grow. This particular book will be re-read many times. It hurt at times but that was the point? I hope for you, the reader, much growth as you consider this summary of the book, and I would encourage you to pick up a copy sometime. Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.
Tim Hoke – Design Manager / Sales
Gould Design Inc.