Harvey Mackay Make character your best characteristic

Is everyone as happy as I am to see the election campaign season coming to a close? Lots of fundamentally good people running — probably won't matter all that much if any one individual gets elected or not — but suddenly all these seemingly good folks are the targets of character assassination 25 hours a day, eight days a week. The more vigorously they defend themselves, the more adamantly their opponents attack. Could they really be that bad?

No. Or anyway, not all of them. But realistically, how could they have gotten so far if they were such creeps?

The business world can be equally cutthroat. When you turn off the lights at the end of the day, you might have made or lost money, you might have won or lost customers, you might have made good or bad decisions. But if you have come through the day with your character intact, you haven't lost anything that can’t be regained. Once you compromise your character, however, that’s the beginning of the end. And you will always come home a loser.

Through the years, I’ve learned some very important lessons about character. Let me share a few and give you a jump start.

  • Never compromise character because of your competition. Occasionally, you will discover that your biggest competitor has a better product or a better price or a better salesperson. That should spur you to positive action. Improve your product. Find a way to shave the cost. Hire well. Make your company better.
  • Character follows you wherever you go. You cannot escape and start over unless you are in the witness-protection program, which wouldn't be my first choice. It's getting harder and harder to hide from your past. Don't believe me? Google yourself. Set your mind to not having to apologize for anything or explain your bad behavior.
  • Building character is difficult, but rebuilding it is even harder. The inner self usually knows what's right, so you would be wise to listen carefully to the little voices that are telling you to watch yourself. And if you refuse to trust your own instincts, ask a trusted friend. Make sure it’s someone who will be brutally honest with you.

Thomas Jefferson, one of our most respected presidents, put it this way: "Give up money, give up fame, give up science, give up the earth itself and all it contains, rather than do an immoral act. And never suppose, that in any possible situation, or under any circumstances, it is best for you to do a dishonorable thing. Whenever you do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, and act accordingly."
That's still good advice, even a couple hundred years later.


Harvey Mackay is a Minnesota businessman and author.

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