Character Creates Opportunity® – Remain Teachable: Thursday, January 30, 2014

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  “You are out of touch with today.”

At any family gathering throughout the years, we have all probably heard these phrases on more than one occasion.  Typically, as individuals get set in their ways, either in a job or in their home life, the phrase, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is said to address a personal short-coming or to rationalize another person’s response to something new and different. The normal dialogue back and forth between generations typically results in someone in a younger generation responding to an older person, hopefully as respectfully as possible, with “you are out of touch with today.” 

Both statements are indicative of two areas that we need to address on our journey to build and strengthen our character:  (1) We must remain teachable throughout life in order to reach our full potential and (2) We need to remain open to learn from anyone by removing the self-imposed obstacle of prejudgment.

(1) Remain Teachable:

Our world continues to grow in complexity, intensity, and uncertainty.  The issues we face in many areas of our lives will not be effectively addressed with the techniques that worked a few decades or even a few years ago.  The pace of change in most of our markets is lightning fast and business leaders need to continue to seek improved solutions to add greater value in addressing more complex customer challenges.  In our homes, whether it is managing our finances, maintaining a strong marriage, or being a more effective parent, our environments are continually changing and we need to be open to new ideas to be more effective in our rapidly changing home front.  The principles of love, understanding, compassion, etc. are timeless and always relevant.  However, how we deliver on those principles needs to adjust with the changing environment.

We must make the choice to remain teachable and continuously learn in order to remain relevant to those around us.  Making that choice will help to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for better relationships.  Blaming someone else, or worse yet, in our own mind saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” will work to weaken our character and our relationships.

(2)Remain Open:

In addition to remaining teachable to stay relevant, we need to be open to learn from anyone.  Generationally speaking, the young should remain open to learn from the wisdom of the old and the old should remain open to learn from the new ideas and energy of the young.  In addition, diversity of experiences, backgrounds, gender, race, etc. provide potentially valuable insights to practice an openness to learn.  However, many times we prejudge the potential teacher with our own thoughts of: “What can I learn from him? He has never worked in my industry?” or “She does not have a degree in this particular field, what could she possibly teach me?” or “He is an old man, there is no way he can relate to what I am dealing with?” or “He is only a teenager, what could he share that would change what we already know?”

Diversity provides a great foundation for learning.  Many times we prejudge diversity of thought or expression to close the door to learning from others.  Making the choice to remain open and willing to learn from others who may appear ‘different’ than us will help to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for our own personal growth. Prejudging people because they are ‘different’ or allowing ourselves to fall into ‘group-think’ that quiets their voice, will work to weaken our character and hinder us from reaching our full potential.

Remaining teachable and open to learn from others will help us to be more effective in our lives.  The outcome of our efforts may be small and appear insignificant, while others may enable us to reach a huge opportunity or avoid a major tragedy. 

Elie Wiesel, the winner of the Nobel Peace prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many other distinguished honors, chronicled his journey from his hometown of Sighet, in Hungarian Transylvania, to the Nazi concentration camps in his book, Night, and provides a vivid reminder of the importance to remain open to learn from anyone. 

In the beginning of his story, Wiesel is a Jewish teenager and studies the Torah and the Kabbalah under a teacher the town calls Moishe the Beadle.  Moishe was somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades in the Hasidic house of prayer in the town. He was quiet, poor, and mostly overlooked by the townspeople.  Elie’s instruction was cut short when Moishe was deported by the Hungarian police as they began rounding up the Jewish religious leaders in 1941. 

After almost a year, Moishe returns to the village and begins to warn everyone about the future plans of the Nazis.  He told them about his experience when he was deported and how the Gestapo beat them, put them into forced labor camps, and began torturing and killing them.  Moishe had been shot in the leg and left for dead, but he managed to escape and return to his village.  Moishe continued to warn everyone in the village through the years 1942 and into 1943.  However, the people dismissed him as a bit out of touch with the times and as a deeply religious person, they dismissed his revelation as a bit over the top and beyond reason.  Then, one day, the town is seized by the Nazis and every individual in the village boards a train for the death camps to the north.  Elie Wiesel lost his entire family and most of his fellow villagers at the end of that train ride.   

Elie Wiesel, in this harrowing account of his experience, reminds us of the need to remain teachable and to remain open to learn from anyone, not just those who look and act like us, are from our generation, or share a similar set of life experiences.  If we make the choice to remain teachable and open, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and our Character Creates Opportunity® for us to have a greater impact in our life’s journey.

The Character Council of Western New York and Harvest Time Partners Foundation Announce a Grant Program for Western New York Schools

Hamburg, NY (January 2014) — The Character Council of Western New York and Harvest Time Partners Foundation are announcing a new grant program for Western New York schools and youth-serving organizations to reinforce the importance of character and encourage organizations to strengthen their commitment to character education.

The Character Council of Western New York and Harvest Time Partners Foundation are pleased to offer four-$1000 character-resource grants to schools to help build or strengthen an existing character-education program within the school community. These grants will be awarded to deserving public, private, or parochial elementary, middle or high schools within the eight counties of Western New York (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, and Wyoming). An additional $1000 character-resource grant will be awarded to a youth-serving organization in the same eight county area of Western New York.

The grant program will award $1,000 to each organization to purchase character resource materials consistent with the Character Council’s 49 character qualities.

“We are excited to offer these grants to schools and a youth-serving organization who are demonstrating a commitment to character education,” said Suzanne McKenney, President of the Character Council of Western New York. “These organizations have the potential to have a tremendous impact in helping to “create a culture of character” throughout the Western New York Region.”

“The Character Council of Western New York has made strong and measurable progress in establishing the importance of character in the lives of students in Western New York and we are grateful for their association in providing these grants,” said David Esposito, Managing Partner at Harvest Time Partners, Inc. “We look forward to recognizing these organizations and the positive impact they will have on the students and communities in the years to come.”

Details of the grant application process and additional information can be found on the Character Council’s website, The deadline for applying for the scholarships is April 1, 2014.

About the Character Council of Western New York

Launched in 2000, in Hamburg, the Character Council of Western New York’s mission is to “Create a Culture of Character”. We envision communities that place a priority on an individual’s responsibility for his or her own disposition, words and actions; encourage and praise excellence in character; and strive to reinstate universal community standards of respect, integrity and virtue. For general information about the Character Council of Western New York, contact us at 716-202‐0702 or email


About Harvest Time Partners Foundation

Harvest Time Partners Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization that supports children and young adults in the pursuit of character-building opportunities worldwide. The Foundation supports a wide range of initiatives from college scholarships to community service projects, as well as international efforts to reduce the suffering of children and young adults. The Foundation was established by Harvest Time Partners, Inc., a personal and professional development company, providing resources and support to enable individuals, families, and organizations to reach their full potential in an increasingly complex and unpredictable world. To learn more, visit the company’s website at

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Character Creates Opportunity® – The Inner Voice: Thursday, January 23, 2014

I received some comments on a recent topic about defining character and the process to build and strengthen character.  In one of my earliest blogs, I attempted to outline some aspects of character and I want to use today’s blog to dig a little deeper on the topic.

There are a number of ways individuals and organizations define character.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes character as “the way someone thinks, feels and behaves.”  At Harvest Time Partners, we describe character as the ‘inner voice’ or ‘compass’ that guides our thoughts, decisions, and actions.  We build and strengthen our character when our ‘inner voice’ is anchored on principles like honesty, courage, compassion, and commitment.  These principles are timeless, universal, and self-evident.  From very early in our development and continuing throughout our lives, our character is built and continually strengthened as principles guide our thoughts, decisions, and actions,.

The reverse is also true.  When our ‘inner voice’ is anchored in pride, selfishness, cheating, and lying, our character is weakened and with repetition becomes corrupt.

The process of building and strengthening our character is no different than the process of building and strengthening our physical health.  There is pain, discomfort, and struggle in the process of building strength and endurance.  Muscles breakdown through exercise, we feel sore, and overtime, muscles grow stronger by new tissue being grown in the recovery process. 

Our ‘inner voice’ that defines our character responds just like our bodies.  When I was a cadet at West Point, we were constantly instructed to make decisions by “doing the harder right, rather than the easier wrong.”  That was very clear direction on how to build and strengthen our character with an understanding that there would be pain, discomfort, and struggle in making some of those decisions.  As we do more of the “harder right”, we get stronger and we are able to more effectively handle difficult, complex situations in life just like our muscles are able to effectively handle more strenuous activity. 

Again, the reverse is true.  If we don’t push ourselves physically, we become weaker and create more problems as we age.  As we continue to make decisions to do the “easier wrong” we weaken our character and at some point, we lose all discernment about truth and right or wrong. 

There are two realities that we can’t escape regardless of our choice to do ‘the harder right’ or ‘the easier wrong’:

(1) The Law of the Harvest, simply put, we reap what we sow is a natural law that holds true in describing outcomes with respect to the development of our character.  Building and strengthening our character with principle-based thoughts, decisions, and actions, will more often than not, enable us to reap an abundant harvest in our lives.  Weakening our character with thoughts, decisions, and actions guided by lies, selfishness, and pride, will more often than not, position us to reap a very poor harvest in our lives.

(2) The Power of Example.  The example we set will have a direct impact on those around us. There is nothing more influential on the lives closest to us than the power of our quiet, consistent example.  If we set an example of loyalty, honesty, and respect in our lives, our families and our coworkers will more times than not, follow that example.  If we lie, cheat, and steal, more times than not, our families and our coworkers will make those same choices, or at the very least, tolerate that behavior in others.  In Judeo-Christian teaching, scripture describes that the actions of parents are felt down to the third and fourth generations.  I am sure if we all looked honestly into the ‘inner voice’ that drives our thoughts, decisions, and actions, we can see our parents and grandparents.  Likewise, in the workplace, we see how the culture of an organization is reinforced by the actions of its leaders and even through transitions, promotions, and acquisitions it is very difficult to change the culture of organization as the power of prior example is tough to overcome.  

We are all on this critically important journey to build and strengthen our character.  There is no “EZ-PASS” lane and no finish line.  Regardless of our ‘inner voice’ that drove past thoughts, decisions, and actions, we should all feel a sense of hope that we can begin today to anchor our ‘inner voice’ on principles to help build and strengthen our character.  In return for our efforts, the Law of the Harvest and the power of our example should give us encouragement to keep moving forward and ensure we have a more positive impact on our life’s journey.

Our Character Creates Opportunity® for us to improve the bonds in our home, our workplace, and our community.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Fear: Thursday, January 16, 2014

When discussing topics around the importance of character, I often hear phrases like, “people just need to do the right thing” or “it is pretty basic, just like the things we learned as young kids in school.” In many ways, how we build and strengthen our character is pretty straight-forward.    

The vast majority of people would agree that our homes and our world would be in better shape if we lived our lives with integrity, took more personal responsibility, removed bitterness and resentment from our thoughts, focused on serving more than being served etc.  In addition, people finding a career path that truly taps into their strengths and fuels their passions is the most effective way to have a lasting, positive impact in the workplace.  Organizations, filled with people who are personally and professionally aligned with the vision and culture of the organization, tend to outperform their dysfunctional peers by a wide margin.

Given the above understanding, the key question I want to address today is then, “why don’t we do it?” 

When I reflect on some of the choices that I have made over the years, both in the home and the workplace, and when I have spoken to many individuals about some of the choices they have made, there seems to be a common theme.  When you are able to cut through all the justification language, the well-articulated rationale for a certain choice, the defensiveness around a decision, etc. more times than not, we are left with some form of fear, often buried beneath insecurity, that is the force that holds us back from making the most effective choices.

When we need to have that difficult conversation about an important issue that is hindering the growth of our most precious relationships, we often allow the fear that we don’t have what it takes or the fear of a potential “bad” outcome that holds us back from moving forward.  Our mind is filled with thoughts like:   

  • “The last 10 times I tried to have this conversation, it ended up really bad, so just forget it.”
  • “He / she always twists my words around and I can’t think fast enough to respond.”
  • “As soon as he / she rolls those eyes at me, I just lose it.”

In the workplace, when we need to have those challenging conversations with a boss, a coworker or an employee, we often allow fear to hold us back with thoughts like:

  • “If I raise this issue with him, I know it will be the death nail to my career with the company.”
  • “He gets so defensive when I talk about working as a team.  Forget it…I will just do it myself.”
  • “The last time I saw someone challenge the boss’ opinion, they were ‘ripped apart’ so forget about speaking up.  I will just deal with it.”

In making major career choices such as remaining in a current position, seeking a new position, leaving one company for another, or making a complete career change, we often allow fear to hold us back with thoughts like:

  • “I don’t know if I can handle that kind of responsibility.  I will just stick with what I have done in the past.”
  • “If I don’t seek assignments with more responsibility, “they” may think I am not as “hungry” or committed as others and I will be on the chopping block when times get tough.
  • “I really feel energized when I think about moving into this new career, but what if I fail?”

Deep down, the truth behind many of our decisions not to “do the right thing” is because of fear. 

Fear has its place in our lives.  In some short term situations like walking at night in a bad part of town, a little fear is good to keep us on high alert.  Having a little fear when the doctor says we need to eat better and exercise more maybe just what we need to get motivated.  Just before we make the decision to buy that new car, take that big vacation, or financially “stretch” into a larger home, a little fear is good to ensure we understand all the potential outcomes before spending the money. 

However, in the context of strengthening relationships and pursuing a life of positive impact, it is not healthy to have fear be the driving force behind our thoughts, decisions, and actions.  We should put fear in its place as we stand on the strength of character with timeless, universal principles like courage, discernment, and discretion in order to make the choice to do the right thing.  Have that difficult conversation, put the issue on the table at work, and pursue that career choice that you find most fulfilling.

There is one very practical step that I have learned to use to help ensure I am not letting fear have an unhealthy impact on the choices that I make both personally and professionally.  As I think through the potential positive and negative outcomes of a particular decision, I simply ask myself one additional question; “If I was not afraid, what would I do?”  

In the end, addressing this basic question helps me acknowledge the reality that somewhere in the mix of major decisions there is always a little fear and it opens the door for me to be brutally honest with myself as I work through making the decision.  Just raising that question usually gets me to look in the mirror, stop kidding myself, and move forward with doing the right thing.  However, there are times when answering that question still does not get me to move forward in the right direction.  In those times, at least it allows me to be honest with myself about the real reason for not doing the right thing.    

I would encourage you to ask yourself that one additional question when working through the important decisions in life.  

Fear has its place in our lives. As we guide our thoughts, decisions, and actions by principles such as courage, loyalty, and commitment, we build and strengthen our character and we help to minimize the negative impact of fear in our lives.  Our Character Creates Opportunity® to strengthen relationships and have a positive impact in our life’s journey.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Potential: Thursday, January 9, 2014

As we just finished the first full week of the New Year, historical data would suggest that 25% of us have abandoned our new year’s resolution goals and by the end of the month, that rate could go as high as 50%.  Be a trend breaker this year and continue to make progress towards your goals!  As we continue our journey to build and strengthen our character, we need to discuss a topic similar to setting and achieving goals and that is reaching our potential in a world that tries to simply drive us towards comparisons.

There is a great deal of measurement and assessment in schools, sports, the workplace, and our homes that is necessary to establish benchmarks and standards to provide a sense of order and guidance to all those involved.  Many times, these important measurements and assessments drive the unintended consequence that our “relative ranking” to others also becomes a measure of our own self-worth.

Healthy competition and the assessment of that competition is a good thing to help us reach our full potential.  However, we have to be disciplined and self-aware around our own personal interpretation of the measurement to ensure that it remains a simple assessment of fact, and not a definition of our true self-worth.  In addition, in our roles as parents and mentors, we need to be especially proactive in ensuring our children don’t fall into the trap of identifying their self-worth by their class rank, their time in the 40 yard dash, or the colleges they do or do not get into.

The “keeping up with the Jones” mindset is the adult manifestation of finding our self-worth in a measurement of what I have relative to others.  Spending a great deal of energy thinking about how our bank account, salary, career progress, accomplishments of our kids, state of our marriage, etc. stack-up to others can all be adult manifestations of finding our self-worth relative to others.

In terms of determining our self-worth, I like to remind myself of John Wooden’s definition of success:  “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”  The legendary basketball player and coach was in essence, saying, you find peace when you give it all you have to reach your full potential, regardless of what those around you achieve or don’t achieve.

Our greatest challenge in life is to reach our potential.  It is not winning a certain championship, reaching the corner office, solving some major problem in the world, or getting our kids prepared for life. Our greatest challenge in life is to reach our potential.  In a similar concept to the note above and Coach Wooden’s definition, Judeo-Christian teaching defines sin as not just some transgression against a rule or standard of living that breaks our connection to God and peace in our lives, sin is just simply falling short of the mark that God has on our lives…in essence, not reaching our God-given potential.

In striving to reach our potential, there are just a few points that I would like to reinforce:

  1. Reaching our potential has nothing to do with our relative ranking vs others.  Our relative ranking may help us get motivated, but reaching our potential has to do with us doing our very best to becoming the best that we can be.
  2. Understanding our potential in all areas of our lives, both at work and at home, requires self-reflection, honest assessment, prayer, and wisdom that comes over time. 
  3. We will find a sense of peace, like Coach Wooden described, if we can consistently give our best effort in our journey of trying to reach our potential.  

When we spend time and effort on determining what our true potential really is, I am reminded of my old high school pole vaulting coach who used to say to me every time before I would jump, “Espo, the sky is the limit!” 

It has been my experience in working with individuals and teams over the years that we all have a great deal more potential in our roles at work and at home than any of us thinks we do.  If each of us can “raise the bar” on our thinking about our true potential, we will make steady progress on building and strengthening our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to reach our potential.


Character Creates Opportunity® – Empathy: Thursday, January 2, 2014

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, an important dimension to address is empathy.  Empathy is literally our ability to recognize or “feel” the feelings and emotions of others.  Strengthening an emotional connection to others through empathy is critical as it builds our skills of understanding and it is through understanding that we learn to appreciate different perspectives and begin to value the unique strengths that individuals bring to our world.

Some of the very basic ways to build and strengthen our ability to empathize with others is through effective listening and focusing our attention on the other person.  In most conversations, we have a tendency to believe in the perceived importance of our response and spend our energy thinking about what to say very quickly after hearing the first few words out of someone’s mouth.  We mentally hustle through a set of assumptions, personal experiences, etc. after hearing someone’s initial comments and we miss a critical opportunity to listen and focus which will enable our ability to empathize more effectively.

We have to exercise a fair amount of discipline to listen first and speak later as much of our experience in school, the workplace, and the home front demonstrates an importance of being quick with a response.  The effective listeners in meetings, in the classroom, and in the home have a tendency to be steam-rolled by a quick and perhaps loud individual.  In addition, as we all participate in today’s “online chatter” via text, email, and various social media, it is important to understand that studies have shown these forms of communication decrease empathy in children and adults.  Wise business leaders, teachers, and family members work hard to draw out the “listeners” as they help us all see a deeper understanding that many times will help to advance the cause of the team or more effectively complete the task at hand.

There is a significant, additional benefit of building our empathy through effective listening and focus that is sometimes missed in discussions on the importance of listening to others.  As we strengthen an emotional connection to others through empathy, our efforts are usually rewarded by the other person feeling compelled to reciprocate in focusing their efforts on listening to us.  This cycle of reciprocation of listening helps to create a more caring and understanding environment which is critical to solving our biggest challenges in the workplace and in the home.

If each of us can take some incremental steps towards improving our ability to empathize with others through effective listening and focus, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for improved relationships in the workplace and in the home.

What techniques have helped you to become a better listener?   Please share a comment below