Which do you hire on, competence or character?

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I don’t know about you but I often find some of my best reading in bookshops at airports. Last week was one such case. I seem to be able to spot something that is just that little bit different in that it comes at things from a different angle or the author comes from a different background. Bruce Weinstein is one such author, he is also known as The Ethics Guy.

His latest book The Good Ones was published in May this year and I thought the subject matter is particularly pertinent given yesterday’s Federal Court order to former Health Services Union (HSU) head Kathy Jackson to repay $1.4million in compensation to the union for misappropriating funds, and last week’s political “argy bargy” with the former Speaker of the House of Representatives.

So often we look to what leaders did or did not do. Weinstein is not a leadership expert rather he is an ethicist and he provides an interesting perspective in that leaders when employing people first look for competence (knowledge skill and experience) and rarely look deeply in to assessing character. Is it that the leader doesn’t care, or is it that they don’t know how to assess character?

The same can be said of people seeking positions in organisations; how far do they look beyond the role and the conditions of employment, devoting time to take a close look at the character of those who lead the organisation they are about to join?

Weinstein argues that looking at the crucial qualities of character is not some ‘feel good’ exercise, it sound business strategy. To quote directly from the introduction to his book “Ethical principles provide a framework, not a formula, for making the right decisions at work and in one’s personal life…. The character based approach to ethics is not simply about solving puzzles here and now: it aims to develop traits that prompt us to live our life honourably.   Character is a much murkier concept than conduct, which may explain why discussions are not common in either business or in our culture in general”.

In his book Weinstein uses stories from leaders and their people to communicate and demonstrate ten crucial principles we need to apply to assess character:

  • Honesty
  • Accountability
  • Care
  • Courage
  • Fairness
  • Gratitude
  • Humility
  • Loyalty
  • Patience
  • Presence

Each chapter explores one of these characteristics in depth in very practical terms. Included at the end of each chapter are questions that can be used by leaders or their people to guide discussion whether you are looking to appoint someone new or you are seeking a promotion.

Character is developed over time through actions not words.

Irrespective of the cause, in every organisation, not just in high profile cases, there is a quantifiable cost when the character of people is questionable. Weinstein ends by quoting the ethics of Greek philosopher Aristotle “It’s not a question of what I should do but who I should be.” This is an interesting perspective which I intend to use. The Good Ones will be a great addition to your library.

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