How often do we have the opportunity to choose between character building actions versus those actions we find comforting? While in a meeting with my colleague Bonnie Ferreira, the CEO of American Leadership Forum-Mountain Valley Chapter, she made the comment that she was making a conscious effort to choose character building over comfort. I had not heard it stated this way before and thought this was a wonderful concept to reflect upon. What a perfect time, at the beginning of a new year, to take this to heart.
So how does this apply to our lives? I thought about an example I heard the other day that many of us who are parents can relate to. My triathlon coach, Lorriann Code, explained how her sons had taken to putting their socks in the drawer under the dryer instead of putting them away in their proper place in the bedroom dressers. She tried over time to coax them and encourage them to put them away. She rationalized how her kids were good kids and if socks being put in the wrong place were her biggest worry – then so be it. Then when the socks were overflowing, it became more of a nuisance and she decided to take action one night. She removed the socks from the drawer and got rid of them as she had been threatening to do. Her sons were shocked when they went to get their socks and the drawer was empty. How does this build character? For my friend she did the uncomfortable thing that then turned into holding her sons accountable. She had the opportunity to follow through on the consequences she had been giving them. She showed strength in her character by taking a stand on a boundary that she had set in her house. It also helped her sons know the rules and understand when they are not followed the consequence is unpleasant and inconvenient. As our coach, Lorriann is constantly choosing character building training over comfort – I can attest to that!
At the workplace there are many opportunities to make a choice between character building versus comfort. I have had situations where a co-worker was difficult to work with and I could choose to avoid the conflict or I could stand up for what I felt was right and have a difficult conversation. In every situation it always worked out better for everyone involved when I spoke up and confronted what needed to be addressed. One of my long time co-workers use to say it this way when we had a difficult task or message to be delivered, ‘Just rip the band aid off fast and get it done!’ This is also a concept I learned while at an executive development program at Wharton business school – that is, short term pain for long term gain versus short term gain for long term pain. If you take action early that is painful you can help make a situation much better. There are many examples of running an organization or business where you have to make very tough choices. Certainly in these economic times we see these circumstances often. When a business is not producing revenues to pay expenses, a leader can take quick action to help survive the downturn. This takes strength and courage hence is character building. Conversely, a leader could delay the inevitable because it is very uncomfortable to make these decisions that can affect people and partnerships. The delay might be easier in the short term, but in the long term the business may not survive.
I believe one indicator of character building versus comfort is when we delay or procrastinate. In thinking about character building versus comfort I may want to take a fresh look and reflect on whether it is uncomfortable and, therefore, I am avoiding the inevitable. I’m glad my colleague shared this concept of choosing character building over comfort. It is a good message at the New Year and I intend to forge ahead with as much character building as possible!