All you can eat buffet
Character and Competence.
I’ve just returned from a conference where we had an “all you can eat” style of buffet for every meal. For a few days I was rather like a lottery winner, but with food.
There were a few thousand people to feed at the conference, yet the kitchen didn’t run out of supplies. I guess there is only so much anyone can eat, right? Although I started out with a plan to eat “exactly the right amount for me”, I frequently managed to fill my plate with more than I had planned, and then ate the lot!
“Lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy within three to five years than the average American. What’s more, studies have shown that winning the lottery does not necessarily make you happier or healthier.”
~ Abigail Hess CNBC
I grew up in a family that had post-war values of making do and mending and clearing your plate. It was a culture based on there being a very limited supply of resources, and every morsel should be consumed with no waste. That was not a bad thing in its day. However times change, and cultures change, but somehow it is really difficult for me to change the habits and customs I grew up with.
The right way, of course, to treat an “all you can eat” buffet is to eat “exactly the right amount, in exactly the right proportions, for me”. Of course, we all know that, so why is it so difficult!
I am told that a similar problem occurs for lottery winners. In many cases, the winner is not used to managing such large amounts of financial capital and they end up taking bad advice and ignoring good advice. By many accounts, it seems that sadly a very large proportion end up worse off than when they started.
“People who were little, ordinary people all of a sudden become extraordinary,” said Steve Lewit, CEO of Wealth Financial Group in Chicago. “They’re euphoric. They lose all sense of reality. They think they’re invincible and powerful. They think they’re Superman.”
~ Teresa Dixon Murray, The Plain Dealer
I suspect I’ll never be a lottery winner. It’s not just that the odds are so long, but rather that I’ve never actually bought a lottery ticket and I don’t plan to. However, if I did, in the light of the evidence the wise thing to do would be to consider in advance what I would do in the event that I did win. Rather as I should consider how to fill my plate in an all you can eat buffet. And stick to it!
The same issue can emerge in a career. It’s a worthy ambition to want to grow in competence as we move through our career. Growth in competence will often bring with it additional prominence and the need to lead others who are following on, and herein lies the danger. As we grow in competence and become recognised for that by moving forward in our career, we need to work on making sure that our character grows too.
One key component of character is trust. In his book “Speed of Trust” Stephen M. R. Covey (the son of the guy who wrote the 7 Habits of Highly Important People) asserts:
“The ability to establish, extend, and restore trust with all stakeholders – customers, business partners, investors and coworkers – is the key leadership competency of the new, global economy.”
~ Stephen M. R. Covey
He points out that after the terrible events of 9/11, the average time for airport security checks even for domestic flights grew some 300% from half an hour to over an hour and a half. The trust in the travelling public had disappeared making the whole process of checking them inevitably more complex and thorough, leading to increased waiting times and increased costs for security equipment and personnel.
If we don’t work on character as our competence grows, then we will soon find that we have overfilled our plate and the character flaws that were overlooked as we started out in life become more evident. If I stick with the habits and customs I grew up with, some of which have outgrown their relevance, and I continue to overlook the flaws that I have been able to get away with, then I will find myself in a place where my competence will lead to a place where my character can no longer sustain me.
“Don’t let your competence take you where your character can’t sustain you.”
As I write this blog we have recently learned the sad news that Billy Graham has died. Whether or not you are a person of faith, it is sure that he has been one of the great leaders of the 20th century. He knew his place of competence, and he had this to say about character:
“The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”
~ Billy Graham
For many of us, character is about making choices before we are faced with the circumstances, and about how to deal with our lapses. It is about deciding on how to deal with the “all you can eat” buffet before queueing up and sticking to it, and how to deal with the times when we fail to live up to our self-imposed standards. Apparently, Billy Graham once observed that “Everyone has some Watergate in them”.
“The reality is that everybody makes mistakes. The issue isn’t whether you will make them, it’s what you will do about them. It’s whether you will choose the path of humility and courage or the path of ego and pride.”
~ Stephen M R Covey
As I work on my character I frequently become aware of new areas that need attention and old habits that need to be adjusted, and like many people, I find that leading myself is often the most difficult task I face every day.
About Roger Fairhead
Roger is a Leadership specialist and uses the PRIZE Winning Leadership model to help leaders improve their effectiveness and that of their teams, through remote and on-site delivery of keynotes, group training events and individual coaching sessions.
He is the author of several books including "PRIZE Winning Leadership" and “Personal Productivity Planner”, a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management and a Director of the Global Leadership Network UK with extensive experience in Project Management and Sales.
“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.
Roger also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.