The internet has been on fire over the story of Ryan Lochte and three other American swimmers allegedly getting robbed at a gas station in Rio. That was the initial report, at least. Over time, however, it became clear that the initial story was not the accurate story. While the facts still seem a bit murky, it appears Lochte was not entirely truthful in his initial account.

As the story has developed, sponsors of Lochte have dropped their contracts with him. Despite winning 12 medals in his Olympic career, these companies want to distance themselves from the perception he has created.

In other words, his achievements are being outshined by his character.

I’m not here to offer commentary on this story, as there is already a significant amount of it online. Instead, I want to focus on one thing we can take away from this saga: the need to develop our character.

For many companies, they talk about the “3 C’s” in the hiring process: competency, culture, and character. Competency is the person’s ability to the job, culture is the person’s ability to work well with the team, and character is the person’s internal ethics.

You can train competency, and you can help someone adapt to a culture. But character cannot be trained. It is something that must be developed by the individual on a daily basis.

Focus on what matters

As millennials, we tend to be shortsighted on many issues. Instead of taking a long view on things, it is easy to get caught up in the “next big thing” mentality. Yet that approach is disastrous when it comes to character, because that is something that is only built over time.

Despite the time it takes to build character, let’s not assume that age automatically implies you are an exemplary. Remember Bernie Madoff? He is in jail for the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, and he’s not a young fella.

Age and character are not directly proportional, meaning the older you are the better your character. Instead, it is directly connected to the time invested in developing it. This is a process that requires consistent, intentional development, much like the strategy Ben Franklin used to plan each day.

So why is this topic important to us millennials? Why should we be having more conversations about it? Why should we focus on it more in our daily lives?

Because if we want to be leaders and change makers, we must focus on first being people of great character.

Remember, it is a direct correlation to the time invested in development, not age. If you want to be a leader or change maker in your circle of influence, you must be intentional about development. Or to put it another way:

Have a character that outshines your birth year. 

People, by nature, will look down on those younger than themselves. It seems to happen at every stage of life: middle schoolers look down on elementary schoolers, high schoolers look down on middle schoolers, grad school students look down on undergrad students, and so the circle continues.

But what if you began developing a character beyond your birth year? Instead of giving people a reason to think less of you because of your age, what if instead you focused on becoming an example for people of all ages? What if your focus was on developing a character that other people would want to mimic?

We cannot let our character get in the way of our ability to lead significant change in the future. Despite your political leanings, you cannot believe that our 2 current presidential candidates are exemplary, upstanding citizens. Each one has recent events in their history that are questionable at best.

What to develop

So what should we develop in order to be exemplary leaders? If we want to develop ourselves, where should we focus? Here are 3 areas you should consider developing first:

  1. What you say. The words you use make an impression on others around you. More often than not, people will listen to what you say and how you say it to make judgments on your character. Yes, actions speak louder than words, but words still speak. What you say and how you say it communicates volumes to people. This includes both in person and online interactions.
  2. How you act. Yes, actions speak louder that words. What we do often shouts above what we say. If our words and actions don’t align, people will likely assume the worst about us. Consistency is more important than ever in today’s world. The trap is too strong to be a different person in different situations. Make sure your actions and your words line up; otherwise, people simply won’t follow you.
  3. How you treat other people. People know how you make them feel, and they watch how you treat others. These interactions are perhaps the biggest communicator about your character, because it can reveal how you see yourself and those around you. People want to follow someone who is confident, yet humble. Arrogance is not a trait that allows you to influence others

How to develop Your character

So how does one develop these traits? Leadership expert John Maxwell says, “Leaders are made daily, not in a day.” This development process is ongoing, and it requires focus and intentionality. In what ways can you develop your character in the 3 areas listed above? Here are a few questions to consider:

  1. What you say. When trying to developing your character through your speech, ask these questions: Am I communicating something about myself that is not true? Am I offending someone?  Do I speak in a way that is respectful and considerate of the other person? Am I communicating verbally what I feel or think internally?
  2. What you do. Are my actions in alignment with my words? Do I do what I say I will do? Are my actions considerate, or offensive? If I watched someone else do what I am doing, would I want to follow them? Would I want people on my team or in my company to follow my example?
  3. How you treat other people. How do I view other people? Am I communicating or acting in a way that others receive well? Am I reading their expressions and watching how they respond in order to ensure I am being respectful and considerate? How do people view me? What feedback do I need to get in order to get a clearer picture of how I present myself to others?

If you want to be someone who leads change in your company or in your circle of influence, focus on developing your character first. Skills are easy to acquire, and you can adapt to fit a culture.

But if you want to do something that matters, you must have a character that outshines your age if you want to do something that outlasts your life.

How do you develop your character? Share in the comments below!

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