Charisma may be useful in attracting a following, but it is largely useless when it comes to achieving a long term positive impact on the people and organizations we lead. For this, we need character. Effective leadership is an inside-out job.
The older I get, the more this quote from one of my mentors, Michael Hyatt reveals itself in everyday experience. As leaders (we are all leaders in some area of our lives), our influence is shaped by our character, which, in turn, is formed over time by our daily choices. The fact is, who we become is not a product of the milestone moments in our lives as much as the small, seemingly inconsequential decisions we make every day.
The good news is that, unlike personality, which is fixed at birth, your character can be developed through the intentional decisions you make about how you spend your time. If you are consistent in managing them, these daily decisions become powerful forces that will encourage you to live with more passion, purpose and influence. Here are four to consider:
Decision #1: The content you consume.
How much news do you expose yourself to every day?
What are you reading and how often?
What do you listen to while driving?
How you answer questions like these says a lot about how intentional you are in developing your character. Author and speaker Matthew Kelly tells his audiences, “You show me what you’re reading and I’ll tell you what sort of person you are. If you give me a list of the books you read last year I can tell you what happened in your life. Even better, you give me a list of the books you’re going to read in the next 12 months and I will tell you what will happen in your life in the coming year.”
That’s a bold prediction, but his message rings clear: Your character is shaped by what you allow to occupy your mind every day. I recall a successful entrepreneur telling me that he largely ignores the news because, if he didn’t, he would be too fearful to launch new business ventures. Remember, regardless of which side of the political spectrum you’re on, both Fox News and MSNBC do not exist to deliver news; their goal is to achieve ratings, which means their mission is keeping you glued to the TV. Over time, the negativity, alarmism, and agenda-driven drama affects us, injecting doubt, worry and passivity that, over time, can hijack our dreams and stifle our initiative. While I’m not suggesting we ignore what’s going on in the world, I strongly believe we need to set boundaries not only on the news we watch, but on all the content we consume every day–podcasts, blogs, streaming video, social media, etc.
Decision #2: The friendships you maintain.
Personal development icon Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Although we are often called through our work and personal lives to minister to many different types of people, those we choose as our closest friends and confidants will have a disproportionate influence on who we become, so we must choose them wisely. If you want to have a great marriage, for example, hang out with people with strong marriages. If you’re looking to become healthy and fit, cultivate friendships with people who practice good nutrition and exercise habits. On the other hand, avoid making close friends with people who exhibit the traits you want to avoid. Remember, birds of a feather really do flock together.
Decision #3: The beliefs you cultivate.
It’s been said that our actions ultimately reflect our beliefs. If you believe, for example, that human life is the result of random, meaningless chance verses the product of a loving, personal God who created you for a purpose, then chances are this belief will, at some point, play out in your life. Your world view–the fundamental beliefs you have about ultimate reality–matters, and every world view attempts to answer these four questions:
>Origin: How did I get here?
>Meaning: What is the ultimate meaning of my life?
>Morality: How should I live? Is there a right and wrong, and what is the difference?
>Destiny: What will happen when I die?
In a culture shaped by superficiality, these questions may seem over-the-top, but your capacity to formulate clear, confident answers to each of these will profoundly influence the breadth and depth of the person you become.
If I could come to your house and spend just one day with you, I would be able to tell whether or not you will be successful. You could pick the day. If I got up with you in the morning and went through the day with you, watching you for 24 hours, I could tell in what direction your life is headed.
According to John, when he shares this at conferences, he always gets a strong reaction. Some people are surprised and get defensive because they think he would be making a snap judgment about them. Others, however, are intrigued and want to know why he would make such a statement. As John points out, our character isn’t something that suddenly manifests itself in someone’s life. It is a process; every day is merely preparation for the next, and our habits–the simple, repeatable actions we consistently take over time–ultimately determine who we become. As John famously says, “You will never change anything in your life until you change something you do daily.” So what are your habits preparing you for, and is it aligned with where you truly want to go?
Of all the forces shaping the quality and impact of your life, your character stands alone. No one wants to reach the end of their life and feel regret over squandered opportunities and broken relationships, yet sadly, it will be the destination of choice for so many. The difference between experiencing regret verses a deep satisfaction with life, I believe, lies in the importance you attach to each of these life-shaping, character-defining decisions.
Question: Which of these decision areas do you feel confident you have made? Which ones have challenged you? What do you plan to do about it? I’d love to hear your comments!