Character is the embodiment and the expression of our guiding principles and values. It is who we are on the inside, and what we show on the outside. Our guiding principles and values are the promises we make to ourselves about how we will behave, both in private and in the world at large. When we live up to those promises — when we act consistently with what it is we say we stand for, and consistently deliver on our promises (even when no one else is looking) — we are living in personal integrity.
For most of us, our personal values don’t remain a private affair, either. We often share them with the other members of our community. We make a promise to them, and we give them the expectation that we will conduct ourselves in ways that are consistent with our promises. By living up to those promises, we build our believability – and strengthen our credibility.
Credibility derives from the Latin verb credo, which means I believe. Our believability — or our credibility — rests in the eyes of others. Our credibility manifests in others as I believe you. I believe you because your actions are consistent with your promises. Our credibility is other people placing their faith and trust in us. It is their having faith that we will continue to behave and speak and act in ways that adhere to the expectations we have created or stated.
Naturally, we all trip up on occasion and do things that are against what we say we stand for. To the degree that we have built a well of credibility in the minds of others, we can ask for forgiveness and be forgiven. But, if the pattern of our actions, behaviors and words over time start to suggest something other than what we claim about ourselves, then it’s that pattern that begins to speak the louder.
Now, none of us is perfect, and we may all momentarily step on our principles or hot headedly transgress them. That’s the cost that comes along with being human, yet a basically healthy credibility can weather the missteps.
During our lives, most of us will face many challenges that will invite us, if not require us, to lead. When we step into the role of leader, the content of our character will shape the relationships that we form with the other members of our community. The ways in which we express our character will enhance or diminish our capacity to engage their willingness and their enthusiasm to want to participate, serve, act and persevere. You have the opportunity to be of such character that your partners will not only follow your lead, but will surge out ahead of you as, together, you strive to make contributions that are meaningful to everyone.
Excerpted from The Citizen Leader