The workplace can be the greatest testing ground for your character. It’s not easy to withstand the high pressure, high stakes grind at work where you feel pulled in a hundred directions, trying to please everyone else. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the values and principles that hold your character together. In the clamor and chaos of business, your character may become only a small voice in the storm.
But no matter how prominent or how subtle a role your character plays in your everyday decision-making, you need to be able have it come back to the forefront when an ethical crisis arises. When you find yourself in an ethical crossroads and you’re trying to figure out what to do, plug in to your character for help. This is called making Character Connections. It helps you connect to deeper principles within your character so you don’t make superficial or emotional judgments. When you face an ethical decision, run it through the five elements of the Character Connection.
Character Connection #1 – Moral Code: This is where ethics begins. Everyone has a moral code. Your moral code tells you what is right and wrong. Lying, cheating, and stealing are likely on your “wrong” list. Unfortunately, in an ethical crisis you may not be able to grab ahold of larger concepts and you may opt to act in the here and now. When an ethical bind throws you into a crisis, you need to stop, make a Character Connection with your moral code, and let it bring you back to reality.
Character Connection #2 – Values: So, your moral code tells you what’s right and wrong but where do you go from there? Values are the fundamental rules that you “value” and by which you live your life. Values are your deeply held core beliefs that show themselves in your everyday moral decisions. Your moral code may say, “Lying is wrong” but the value (or way of life) that is derived from it may include “Honesty is the best policy.” Values are the specific forms that your fundamental moral beliefs take. To plug into this Character Connection search deeply within yourself to access the values that you hold dear and compare your ethical challenges to them.
Character Connection #3 – Beliefs: We all have certain beliefs based on our experiences, upbringing, religion, family, education, or culture. The beliefs that you’ve been taught and by which you lived your life greatly influence your moral code and values. What did your mother always tell you? What religious and philosophical beliefs are non-negotiable? What cultural or family traditions and mores govern your behavior? Beliefs play an incredibly strong role in how you respond to an ethical dilemma. For most people, going against one’s beliefs is unthinkable and is the strongest of all moral checks and balances.
Character Connection #4 – Principles: Principles are your basic underlying laws or assumptions that you use to make ethical decisions. Principles are the specific rules that govern your behavior. They naturally arise from your values and moral code. You can have values and beliefs, but a person of principle sticks to them like glue. If you don’t stick to your principles then you lose your values. To make this Character Connection ask yourself, “Will my ethical decision break any important principles by which I live my life?”
Character Connection #5 – Path: Realizing that moral and ethical choices have consequences, you need to be constantly aware of the future and what path your choices will take. This kind of forward-thinking, big-picture view gives you a healthy perspective on your present-day problems. There are many paths in life that will take you in all kinds of directions. Some paths are good and some are not. In making this final Character Connection, you need to ask yourself honestly, “Where is your decision taking you? Is the decision leading you down the wrong or the right path?”
These Character Connections plug you in to a deeper dimension within yourself and they show you how your actions are related to your character. They do not just stand on their own but are deeply connected and interrelated. Your time at work should not be devoid of Character Connections. Your decisions, both in an ethical crisis and in everyday work, should include meaningful connections that bring wholeness and depth to everything you do. And when the storm comes, that small voice of character will not be quiet but will clearly guide your path.