Character failure & career derailment: two sides of one reality


Character and careers

For years I’ve been a committed student of good character and its qualities- virtues, authentic intentions and motives, positive emotions, ethical values, sound judgement, conscious choice- and what impact they have on behaviors and relationships in the workplace. Character qualities are often seen as soft but don’t we all know they drive the hard aspects of work? Don’t we see that both short and long run they affect the results we produce for ourselves, our colleagues, our organization and our society?

Students- the next generation of employees, managers and leaders- can be competitive candidates in the labor market by acquiring an academic degree and professional qualifications. But this is not enough. To build a good reputation, enjoy career sustainability and fulfill their potential, the essential asset is good character. We expect the university to have it as a priority that students cultivate good character during their studies and the corporation to cultivate a culture of opportunities for employees to express and celebrate it. Most important of all though, is that students assume responsibility for their character.

Character failure …

Echoing Aristotle, we are what we repeatedly do. Character can be either good or bad and it forms by doing, becoming and being, by repeating actions and making choices. The process is similar for both good and bad character to form. So, what is the difference? Well, this is simple: quality. We form good character by doing good actions that originate in good intentions and are expressed in authentic choices; we strengthen it by reflecting and assessing the impact of our behavior on ourselves and our human environment. This echoes Socrates who advises that left unexamined life is not worth living. By analogy, the same applies to character: lack of self-examination can lead to character failure.

… career derailment

Character failure can lead to career derailment that we’ve often seen to come in several forms, shapes and colors in the workplace: personal agendas at the expense of common goals, arrogance in the belief of omnipotence, an inflated ego in the conviction of invincibility, waste of other people’s talents lest they prove better, nepotism and favoritism against merit, toxic behaviors and negative reactions that impair relationships. If that isn’t hybris, then what is? Am I missing something here?

Career derailment can go even further with strengths turning into weaknesses and becoming fatal flaws that lead to failure of many other sorts. It is essential to understand weaknesses. A weakness can be inherent in which case it can possibly be fixed with training or managed with teamwork in the hope of becoming irrelevant to performance. But what happens with the weakness that results from a derailed strength? How can it be addressed before social feedback forces a harsh reality check? Strange as it might be, we usually worry about the former because it is inconvenient, and often disregard the latter although it is dangerous.

Character can fail and careers can derail. Academic education and corporate training should be about character in priority. The rest can always follow.

Until the next post, thank you for reading! Sophia P.