Develop Your Character House
By Grant Peirce, Character YAQologist
Developing strong and balanced personal character is one of the fundamental necessities for living a joyful and purposeful life. But how do you go about developing character? It’s like building a house. When building a house, you begin with raw materials such as concrete, plaster, wood, and metal. Then you put them together in three phases: 1) Build a Strong Foundation; 2) Build the Superstructure; and 3) Finish the Exterior Elements.
Phase 1: Build a Strong Foundation - Integrity
The foundation is the most important part of any house because without it, rest of it will collapse.
With character, this foundation is Integrity. The raw materials for Integrity are Truthfulness, Respect, Humility, and Adherence (the ability to follow accepted rules). Without these foundational qualities, all other qualities are bound to fail. That is because these qualities are prerequisites for trust. If you are not truthful (you lie), there is no trust. If you are disrespectful, no trust. If you are in it for yourself, no trust. If you don’t adhere to important rules, no trust. It is vital you lay a strong foundation of integrity to support the rest of your character structure.
Phase 2: Build a Superstructure – Vision, Drive, Responsibility, & Influence
Once a stable foundation is established, the “superstructure” can be built. In a house, the superstructure consists of beams, rafters, braces, and so on. In joyful, purposeful people, the superstructure consists of Vision, Drive, Responsibility, and Influence. Here are details of each of these:,
1. Vision - the ability to think creatively, see opportunities, understand the competitive marketplace and create new and effective solutions. Raw Materials: Creativity, Moderation, and Reflection.
2. Drive - the ability to make tough decisions, make oneself heard, and hold fast to one’s values. Related virtues: Purposefulness/Confidence/Courage, Justice, and Honor.
3. Responsibility - the ability to be productive, get things done, create and complete project plans, and accomplish tasks. Related virtues: Orderliness/Organization, Excellence, Dependability, Perseverance, and Self-discipline.
4. Influence - the ability to excite others, gain unity within the group, and bring positive energy to the team. The table below contains a full list of virtues that relate to each category. Related virtues: Compassion, Joyfulness, Friendliness, Service, Trust, Unity, and Flexibility.
Character strength is very important. However, it is also important to maintain balance. Different situations may call for different character qualities at different times. For example, it may be important for a person to demonstrate “Drive” dimension, such as Purposefulness/Confidence/Courage and Justice, to affect positive change.
However, the situation may also require a person to temper this drive with the interpersonal qualities of “Influence” such as Compassion, Friendliness, and Joyfulness, to communicate the need for change and to gain buy-in from others. Otherwise, you may seem abrasive, insensitive, or out of touch. You may struggle gaining full commitment and engagement from others. Similarly, strength in “Vision”, which provides the power to create great ideas and innovations, must be balanced with “Responsibility” to carry out the ideas and innovations.
Phase 3: Develop Exterior Elements
After building a strong foundation and superstructure, the exterior elements, the part that people can see and that interacts with the outside world, can finally be built. These elements both enclose and protect the structural elements hidden within. With a house, these include the walls, roof, siding, decorations, and other visible aspects. With character, these external elements are what traditional psychological assessments measure:
1. Cognitive Abilities. The ability to compute information about the world, understand it and figure things out
2. Personality. How people interact with the world and the people within it
3. Skills/Cognitive Abilities. The information we have learned that enables us to do things in the world
4. Attitudes. What we think about people, organizations, their environment and anything else in the outside world.
These externals are important. However, we often focus only on these elements, such as competencies and skills. Just like trying to fix siding on rotten studs, if you only focus on developing exterior elements, you will fail. The underlying strength and balance of your character structure is not strong enough to hold it up.
Strength and balance in personal character help people lead joyful and purposeful lives. However, as the famous philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said:
“Virtue is a state of war, and to live in it, we must always combat with ourselves.”
Personal character will easily deteriorate without constant diligence to protect and develop the virtues. To sacrifice anywhere in this model, if you let your skills deteriorate, if you let your intelligence idle, if you let your character qualities weaken, or worst of all, if you sacrifice your integrity, catastrophe can happen. Promising careers have been scuttled, multi-billion-dollar businesses have disappeared, and people’s lives have been ruined because they allowed their integrity to crack, their character to falter, and everything else to collapse. Don’t let this happen to you!