“Does your story reflect your character?” 5 tips to boost your Return on Character

April 25, 2015

“Does your story reflect your character?”

5 tips to boost your Return on Character

Is your character reflected in the story of your career and your business? Do people understand the principles that you strive to achieve as a leader or employee or businessperson?

How important is that you ask? Well, a recent study reported in Harvard Business Review says it is very important: CEOs who rated high on four moral principles were proven to deliver better financial and other results than those who did not. This work, by a US leadership consultant, speaks to the importance of what they call “Return on Character”.

The study measured CEOs, through interviews with their employees, on the principles of Integrity, Responsibility, Forgiveness and Compassion. They found that “CEOs whose employees gave them high marks for character had an average return on assets (ROA) of 9.35% over a two-year period. That’s nearly five times as much as what those with low character rating had; their ROA averaged 1.93%.” In addition, these “virtuoso CEOs” “received higher employee ratings for vision and strategy, focus, accountability, and executive team character”. (To find out more about the study, check out Return on Character by Fred Kiel, Harvard Business Review 2015).

I believe that it is important for your character – those principles that you hold in high regard and guide you every day – to be reflected in the story of your career, your business, your new idea. And you can’t just say they are part of your character, they need to be backed up by proof points. Here’s an example of what I hope demonstrates something about my character:

The hardest thing I ever did in my career was make a decision that I did not want to continue as a member of the executive team of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games when we won the Games in 2003. Having just had a fantastic experience as a VP with the Bid Committee, with a 7-year window ahead that promised rewards of many types, and an opportunity to continue to work with people whom I truly loved and respected, I opted to step away and pursue a different course. For at least two years afterwards, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking I had made the biggest mistake of my career.

But I believed that it was time for a different direction, to stick to my fundamental belief that I should always pay attention to what my instincts are telling me. Even when it wasn’t totally clear to me why I needed to make that decision. Even when many of those I trust and admire were telling me it was a big mistake. Somehow the strength of my character came to the fore and I carried through.

What was my return on that character investment? Financial rewards, yes. But more importantly I had an opportunity to live and work in London, England, to base myself and my husband in a 200-year-old farmhouse in Andalucía, Spain, for several months; and to have experiences with friends and family that never would have got air time if I had committed myself to 7 years on the Olympics. And ultimately, I found a new career as an Executive Coach, which I love and now feeds me in ways that I never could have envisioned.

What are some examples in your life/career/business where you took action based on your character? And how can these examples of character be woven into the stories you tell about yourself or your business? Here are some tips that may help:

  1. Dig deep – You may have shown strength of character last week, or the best example may have happened 25 years ago. It may have been a time when you showed empathy, concern for those you share this planet with, or an ability to let go of mistakes, either yours or someone else’s. Dig deep and pull it to the surface.
  2. Think about how you will tell the story – There are many reasons that people don’t tell stories that reflect their character. For example, we will often not talk about times when our character showed up in a positive light because we don’t want to sound like braggarts (a particular Canadian characteristic!). How can you tell the story so that you avoid that pitfall, and yet get the message across?
  3. Be authentic – Even if you are tempted to stretch the truth a tiny bit (which of course you are not!), we live in an age when anything that is fake, or even smells of it, can be checked out on the Internet in the blink of an eye. Keep it authentic.
  4. Keep it short and simple – How many great stories are ruined by superfluous details, or a meandering story line that leaves your listeners yawning back at the starting line. Clarity and brevity are in themselves good character features!
  5. Get others to help you tell it – Who will give you a short testimonial that you can use to support your story? A strong proof point can best show up in the words of others.

As the Danish author Isac Dinesen, author of Out of Africa, said: “to be human is to have a story”. What might the Return on Character be for you if you can get good at telling those human stories that reflect your character?

Once again I am lucky to have the opportunity to work with a great Strategic Storyteller, Bill Baker who travels the world helping corporate leaders get better at telling their stories. Bill and I will join forces to present our Executive Storytelling workshop in Vancouver on Thursday May 21. We still have spots available – please check it out on www.execstorytelling.com .

Here’s to your Return on Character!