Character Creates Opportunity® – Behaviors: Thursday, September 25, 2014

There is no doubt we are living in a time of increasing complexity and intensity.  Whether it is the current tensions in “hotspots” around the globe, struggles in communities close to home, or businesses trying to navigate not just marketplace competition and economic trends, but the significant social and political changes within their areas of operation.  Even though they don’t make the front page news, we also know there are underlying tensions in the home that then manifest themselves in actions we do see in our schools, communities, and workplaces.

With the increasingly complex problems around us we have a tendency to become overwhelmed and sometimes paralyzed with the sense that the challenges are insurmountable.

In a real and practical sense, the complexities we see are not the result of some “community” behavior, “society” behavior, “organizational” behavior, or even “family” behavior.  They are the result of individual choice and the behaviors that stem from those choices.  A community’s culture, an organization’s culture, a family’s culture simply and practically flow from individual behavior.

The only real individual behavior we have control over is our very own.  We are free and accountable to behave in response to the situation around us.  Our individual behavior is where change begins.  When we look across the history of time, we see individuals that are the catalysts for change.  Not technologies or mass moments, but individuals are the genesis of driving change.

There are the great examples we read about like Gandhi leading change in India without ever holding public office. Churchill galvanizing the British people during time of war.  Ronald Reagan as the catalyst for driving change to end the cold war.  On the business front, we read about Lou Gerstner turning around IBM in the 1990s, Steve Jobs coming back to Apple and driving the next great wave of innovation, and Elon Musk spearheading great technical advances with Tesla’s electric cars and space travel.

However, the most important actions of people becoming the catalyst for change are those we don’t read about in the papers or on the internet.  They are the actions of individuals in the home. The individual behaviors of parents, grandparents, and children within the home has always been the greatest catalyst for change over time.

It is the behaviors within the home that day in and day out set the tone for the next 8 hours in the classroom, the workplace, the community.  Those behaviors in the home, collectively over time, form the foundation for individuals to step up and meet the opportunity on a much larger scale and become the catalyst for the really big changes we will eventually read about in newspapers and in history books.

Driving major change around the world and around our community is about individuals being the catalyst and those individuals are first and foremost impacted by behaviors in the home.

We all have our roles to play.  Some of us are playing direct, major roles right now in dealing with the complexities we see all around us.  However, for the vast majority of us, our best effort to impact these large complexities can be brought down to clear and simple steps we can start in our homes and with our families. character-creates-opportunity-2014-250-by-250px

Our character, the internal compass that drives our thoughts, decisions, and actions, is the starting point for those important behaviors in the home.  As we build and strengthen our character with behaviors based on honesty, respect, understanding, courage, compassion, and discipline, we will create the foundation to encourage others in the home to act based on those principles in school, the workplace, and the community.  Eventually some of them will drive positive impact on the world’s stage.

When the complexity of this world begins to feel overwhelming, we should all remember the role we can play to drive change begins simply and clearly in the home.  As we guide our thoughts, decisions, and actions by principles, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to improve the world around us.

Character Creates Opportunity® – An Effective Combination: Thursday, September 18, 2014

As we continue on our journey to build and strengthen our character, there is the occasional need to remind and reinforce the truth that there are no quick and easy solutions to address the major challenges of life or to accomplish our major goals in life.  As the saying goes, “If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.”

Despite the reality that there are no easy fixes, we continue to be baited and many times hooked to the idea of “3 simple steps” to awesome relationships, the “10 minute workout” that will keep us healthy and fit, or by simply answering the “one big question” we will energize our team to win in the marketplace.

When I hear those “simple and easy” pitches, I am reminded of the quote by Michelangelo, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery; it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all.”

There are a number of techniques that can help us increase our personal effectiveness, achieve some goal, or support our team to reach a key milestone. These techniques may change with the times and the technology, but there are two principles that will help to determine our level of effectiveness over the long haul.

The first principle is Education:  Formal education in high school, college or graduate school will certainly play a part.  However, for most adults, continual, ongoing education throughout life is the critical factor.  When we remain open to learn from others, from our experiences, from mentors and friends, take a new class, read a book, or watch an educational video on the internet, we continue to grow.  When we make a choice to remain closed to continually educating ourselves, we fail to grow.  Failing to grow is a problem no “quick fix” will overcome.

The second principle is Effort:  There is no substitute for the energy required to work hard and persevere.  The significant achievements in life don’t come about from quick wit, smooth talking, or the one brilliant solution, they come about from good old fashion effort over time, just like we learned as kids.   Building and maintaining healthy relationships, especially those in the home, takes an enormous amount of intentional effort.  The “happily ever after” stories we read as kids fell short on that reality.  However, our life experience reinforces the reality that intentional effort over time is the foundation for healthy relationships.character-creates-opportunity-2014-250-by-250px

In addition to being a good reminder for all us, I especially wanted to highlight these principles for two specific groups of people:

(1)    For those who are currently in a tough struggle to reach a goal and anxiousness, worry, and doubt are draining precious energy.  My hope is that this will be an encouraging reminder of the truth that education and effort are the foundation of achievement.  Reaching a goal is not about being the smartest, having the best connections, or just plain luck.  Education and effort will play to our favor in the long haul, so keep moving forward on those two fronts no matter how tough the present struggle.

(2)    For those who still maybe holding out hope that there is that secret, quick-fix formula out there to reach our hopes and dreams.  My hope is that this blog could be a sobering reminder to you and those you influence that the secret, quick-fix to the important things in life is not a reality.  Education and effort will always play a part in the foundation for achievement.

As we continue to increase our effort and our ongoing education, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to improve relationships, overcome challenges, and reach our goals.

Character Creates Opportunity® – The Other Side of Suffering: Thursday, September 11, 2014

There is a great deal written about, discussed, Facebook status updates provided, and testimonies given about the various disappoints, discomforts, and sufferings we endure during our journey of life.

Some of these are relatively light-hearted sufferings like a missed plane, a canceled meeting, the consistently late cable-guy, or the important phone call that was dropped while navigating a big city traffic jam.

However, many of us would classify some of these sufferings as almost too much to endure, like the untimely death of a loved one, a parent holding the hand of a terminally ill child, the heartbreaking destruction of a once close family, or the addiction that resulted in a tragic ending.

Although we all hope to avoid a great deal of pain and suffering in this world, the reality is that we all will endure our share of suffering.  Most of us will find a way to carry-on, some in silence and some with a loud roar.  There is no escaping disappoint, discouragement, and suffering.  Our natural pathway to addressing suffering is to rally our own strength, perhaps we are fortunate to gain some encouragement from others, and we endure with the hope that we will continue to grow stronger through the experience.

As a point to reinforce the importance of building and strengthening our character, it is helpful to highlight the other side of suffering.  The other side of suffering, the other side of enduring the pain, is an opportunity to grow in empathy towards the suffering of others in order to be a genuine and relevant source of comfort to those in need.character-creates-opportunity-2014-250-by-250px

When we walk through the valley of suffering, as opposed to growing bitter, we have an opportunity to deeply understand the suffering of others and reach out to help others find comfort in their own troubled time.

There is often no greater connection that can be made with someone suffering through a difficult family experience than one who has also walked through that experience.  Those who have endured the financial hardship of a painful bankruptcy are often the most effective in guiding others through the experience of rebuilding their credit and confidence.  Who better to support and encourage someone struggling with addiction than someone who has walked down that same road?

Those who have endured a particular hardship are very often the most helpful to relate to the needs of those dealing with a similar struggle.

The other side of suffering can be an opportunity to build and strengthen our character when we:

(1)    Make the choice to grow in empathy towards the suffering of others as opposed to growing bitter through our own experience

(2)    Act on an opportunity to make a connection with someone who is enduring a similar struggle to our own.

(3)    Grow stronger, not just by enduring our own struggle, but also by the truth that being a comfort to others grows our own capacity to live a more abundant life.

As we use the experience of our own suffering to aid others in need, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to have a positive impact in this world.

Character Creates Opportunity® – Relationships: Thursday, September 4, 2014

Life is meant to be lived in relationships.  We cannot live life alone for any significant length of time without becoming unhealthy emotionally and then physically.  An important factor in our own health is the presence of others. In addition, any meaningful achievement in business, communities, or our world, was accomplished with people working together.

There is a great deal of modern day research to demonstrate the value of relationships.  In addition, no matter what religious affiliation or spirituality discipline we subscribe to, there is a great deal of comment on the value of relationships.  In the book of Ecclesiastes it says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.”   There is an old Swedish saying that I came to know during many travels to Sweden for business that provides a simple and powerful reminder of the importance of relationships; “shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow.”

We all enjoy those moments of relationship with others when times are easy going and comfortable.  Many of us can relate to the joy of having a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with a close friend or loved one when life seems a bit settled.  In addition, when we are in a difficult struggle, the companionship of someone who understands and cares is a huge source of strength during our time in need.

Like many experiences in life, relationships provide insight into our character.  It is often the difficult side of relationships that can be most revealing to us and a place where we can learn and grow. Most of us have been around the proverbial “block” a few times.  We have come to realize that all meaningful relationships have a fair amount of struggle and the fairy tale notion of “happily ever after” is not reality when life is in a constant state of significant transition in the home, the workplace, and the community.  Transitions bring new experiences and new experiences are a powerful door opener to stress and strain in relationships.

When relationships are strained (the unfortunate reality is they will be strained at some point), we have a real opportunity to build and strengthen our character.  Our effort focused on how we respond during that critical time has the potential to make all the difference in the survival or the demise of the relationship.  We probably can always find some fault on “the other side” of the relationship.  If we are honest with ourselves, they can always find fault on “our side” too.  There is little to no benefit in playing the blame game.

When our response, during times of struggle, is focused on patience (which is defined as long suffering by the way), understanding, and a desire to genuinely find a “better way” together, we will more consistently see the relationship survive the struggle. In addition, like any good workout routine, our strength to endure future struggles will be increased as our “muscles” get stronger with the workout.

As our thoughts, decisions, and actions are focused on rising above our situation and responding with patience, understanding, and genuine desire to find a “better way,” we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® to build healthy and meaningful relationships.

As we journey back to school in the fall to continue our education, as businesses fine tune plans to finish the year strong, and as schedules get a little more jammed with activities, we will most likely face a few struggles in these transitions and we have an opportunity to strengthen relationships, especially those closest to us.

A great quote from former First Lady Barbara Bush is a helpful reinforcement; “As important as your obligations as a doctor, lawyer, or business leader will be, you are a human being first, and those human connections-with spouses, with children, with friends-are the most important investments you will ever make.  At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal.  You will regret time not spent with a spouse, a child, a friend, or a parent…Our success as a society depends not on what happens in the White House but on what happens inside your house.”