Adversity doesn’t build character; adversity reveals character.” 


It’s a word, a concept, that’s been on my mind lately. 

As 2020 drew to a close, I observed how people’s character had been revealed in the midst of adversity. I’ve been struck by the character of political leaders — primarily at the national level — in addressing political and public health crises. I’ve also observed how folks’ character has played out in “everyday interactions.”

During this time, I’ve had to look at my own character as well.

I have no idea who originated the quote above, but it’s one of my favorites. And, I believe, it’s pretty spot on.

It’s Complicated

As I’ve considered the issue of character in leaders and others, with whom I’ve dealt, I’ve come to the conclusion that character is complicated. It’s like the layers of an onion. As layers are peeled back, different aspects of character are revealed. 

Character is about who you truly are and your moral fiber. Your moral fiber is about being determined to do what you think is right. 

Character also seems to be dynamic — not static.

If someone behaves in a way that they believe reflects their moral fiber — what they think is right — and that behavior conflicts with others’ moral fiber, who is to say who’s right? Who calls balls and strikes on character?

Can someone behave in a way that reflects less moral fiber in some situations and high moral fiber in others?  For example, not waiting for a traffic light to turn green at an empty intersection in the middle of the night. What’s the nature of their character? Is character situational?

I don’t think character is situational. I do think it could be “on a spectrum.” There could be situations where one’s character exceeds other situations: Not waiting for the green light, but scrupulously adhering to the speed limit.

“Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit” 

That’s an old saying in politics. It basically means that one’s political beliefs will drive how they view and behave toward an issue. We’re seeing that a lot lately. 

The saying applies to business as well: Issues at the corporate level are seen very differently than in the field. 

And in parenting: Parents may have different perspectives of kids’ behaviors, depending on their own kids’ involvement.

We’ve all seen that saying play out over the past year. How folks behave during COVID is clearly dependent on their belief system and values. And their behavior reflects their character. 

Character = The Operationalization of Values

I think character could be THE issue for 2021 — in politics, in business, in all of our relationships.

I also think it’s critically important that each of us are aware of how our character is being revealed in every interaction we have. 

In her terrific book, Dare To Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts, Brene Brown, encourages us to “live into our values” — to be clear about what we believe and hold important, and to practice those beliefs — to “walk the talk.”

While we need to know — and name — our values, we need to be aware of others’ values as well. We don’t really know people until we take the time to understand (not judge) their values. 

So, for me, character is the operationalization of our values. It’s the sum of Brown’s points above: knowing our values; walking our talk; awareness of others’ values. 

And it’s our character that reveals who we truly are in our interactions with people in our lives.

And you?

What do you think? 

How do you see your character? Is it the operationalization of your values? 

How do you interact with people who operationalize their values, that are different than yours? Who are of different character? 

Can you overcome those differences?

Send me an email and let me know. I can be reached at I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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