CEO Is Not An Acronym For Character Entirely Optional

I read a wonderful post today by my fellow blogger, BTG, about an American football coach who suspended his entire high school football team for demonstrating poor behaviour to others and showing a lack of accountability. You can read the post here.

It started me thinking about the great character paradox. As parents we all want our children to grow up being men and women of character and our messaging of the importance of character starts at an early age. Toddlers are taught not to hit, push or scream and to share and play nice with others. Later, we teach our children to be sociable, inclusive and respectful. As their journey through life continues we reinforce the “treat others as you would be treated” rule and the value of compassion, caring and helpfulness.

And then something happens. Some where along the way, the messaging that reaches our children’s ears seems to change, at least for those children that are destined for the corporate/business world. Whether it’s from peers, educators or society the volume control on the following increases:

  • nice guys finish last
  • the squeaky wheel gets the most oil
  • who you know is more important than who you are
  • you eat what you kill
  • it’s all about the results and not the journey.

So, we teach our children to be adults of character and society and business rewards them for being anything but.

What if our business leaders were prepared to do exactly what this coach did to his team? What if our CEOs and senior managers were spilled for showing lack of character and had to earn their way back into the bonus pool?

Sadly, this Nirvana will never be reached in my life time, at least not in my industry. In business we continually confuse confidence with competence and build reward structures to promote narcissistic behaviour and traits. And what’s more, our company’s mission statements and internal policies do nothing more than add to the we value character rhetoric. Our children inevitably learn what is really rewarded and set out to play the game.

Show me a CEO who reprimands his top salesman for treating the office staff with disrespect and I will show you a man of character. Show me a managing partner who rewards and encourages team contribution over individual billings and I will show you a woman of character. I will also show you a more engaged and productive workforce.

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

The best managers I have worked for have all been people of character. These are the few who show us that we can still achieve by treating superiors and subordinates respectfully, by valuing human beings and by being accountable for our decisions and actions. They share and play nice with others, lessons learned in kindergarten. They don’t toot their own horn or spend their time brown-nosing.

It’s not complicated. Even a toddler can understand it.

Coincidentally, I received a flyer from my old high school today advertising an alumni lunch event around the topic “What Defines Success”. The speakers are all high profile individuals either alumni or parents of present students. By assembling these speakers they have already presumed a certain defintion of success. To me its just more of the same old.

Imagine if we could spill the corporate team and only rebuild it with those who demonstrate real character?

Imagine if character was not entirely optional for our CEOs and senior managers?

Kudos to the coach for spilling his team and taking the time to teach his young charges an important lesson. It’s a huge step in the right direction.


About the curtain raiserhttp://raisingthecurtain.netI have spent my life in offices. For now I am putting that behind me and preparing for the second act. Middle age didn't come with acceptable signposts so I am making my own through my writing. A journey shared is more fun than going it solo.

18 thoughts on “CEO Is Not An Acronym For Character Entirely Optional

  1. I agree. So much to be said for treating people respectfully. I always say it comes back to the Golden Rule every time. Unfortunately, I don’t think all children are taught to do unto others. So many are raised in environments that lack respect for other people. We see this exemplified in TV shows all the time, and we laugh at these narcissistic and snarky make-believe people, but in real life, they’re not funny at all.

    • There is a bit of truth in most humour and you’re right real life encounters with these people are not fun at all. Some kids though rise above their disrespectful home environments if they are lucky enough to have the right mentors or savvy enough to make up their own minds about the person they want to be and most importantly have the wherewithal to respect themselves first.

  2. No. 1: Kudos to the coach because he took a huge risk. The whole team, you say? Who has the GUTS to do that? The season hangs over their heads and that doesn’t allow a disappearing act.
    No. 2: Stop the ‘you’re so wonderful and no-one can beat you’ partners (parents / teachers)
    No. 3: So many schools push kids through even if they haven’t earned the next grade. This is WRONG. Students know it doesn’t make a difference so they just hang around instead of hand in. The first time I heard this, I didn’t believe it.
    No. 4: Our society seems to credit people who can t.a.l.k. instead of people who can bring in results.
    No. 5: I don’t understand it, but companies vie for the cream of the crop and the cream of the crop vie for all the perks they can get before contribution. When were they taught this?
    I will stop, OK? πŸ˜€

    • Love your comments… did you really have to stop ;)? Re No. 2, no one applauds me just for turning up to work, there is no “try” certificate. Our schools and all of this positive reinforcement just for existing is going to bite us on the backside. But it is not until our corporations change the way they assess and reward their leaders and managers that anything will change in the business world. Which raises and interesting dichotomy in itself, because a LOT of job advertisements include negotiation skills and influencing skills as essential criteria. Hard to have either of these without relationship skills.

  3. Judy, many thanks for the shout out to my post. Your words have taken the message further and you should be commended. I have a quote I keep around “don’t mistake kindness for weakness.” To me it applies to great leaders who deflect credit to others and treat their associates and peers with respect and kindness. It is all about character. I see too many CEOs who take credit for market conditions where a rising tide lifts all boats and truly did not do much to earn their millions. Then, when a downturn hits, they are fired with two or three years severance. Well said, BTG

    • Ah yes, the Golden handshake, parachute call it what you will. Great leaders also don’t blame others for their own shortcomings or treat their subordinates as pawns in political games. Seen too much of that as well. Thanks for your wonderful comments.

    • I understand your sentiment, it can take a lot out of you. Managing humans has to be hardest job on earth and yet most aspire to do just that or at least not be managed themselves.

  4. Your title says it all. Nice piece. I have left jobs with leaders and managers who lacked integrity and character and given 110% to those who had it. Nowadays, I strive to emulate the best of the best that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with in the past. Doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes, but I take responsibility for them and don’t blame others for my failures. Also don’t steal credit from those who deserve it.

    • Thanks for the great feedback. It’s true what they say about people leaving people and not corporations. For a lot of professionals it doesn’t take much really to motivate them, it is usually innate. The demotivation side of the equation is a harder nut to crack, but at the end of the day it comes down to respect, plain and simple.

  5. I’m not I’ve witness much of the team respect in business for years. Way back at the hospital, there was one particular group that collectively did things well, respected each other and didn’t try to shaft someone…………but, it seems nowdays you can cheat, lie and be a jerk and still be considered successful. Not appropriate to my way of thinking. Good for the coach.

    • Yes, we seem to have lost out big time with this win at all costs mentality that corporates tend to reward.We applaud when we win against our external competitors but are surprised when the same tactics are used against us from within. Thanks for dropping by, haven’t seen you for a while πŸ™‚

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