Manage Your Image or Build Your Character?


As a child, what lengths did you go to in order to avoid brushing your teeth? This seemingly innocuous question makes for a surprisingly robust conversation. (I’m adding it to my “fool proof” icebreakers!)

As it turns out, children go to extremes to avoid the teeth cleaning process.

Of course there's the usual lying ("I PROMISE I BRUSHED!!!), the “pretend you’re asleep” drill, and the classic, “whine until they cave” routine.

But there are even bigger shenanigans out there; tales of sibling bribes, massive distraction techniques, and the “brush the side of the wall to fool them” attempts.

As an adult, it’s easy to laugh about the craziness of a grade-school mind.  We can see how the effort used to avoid the chore is greater than doing the chore in the first place.

A similar phenomenon occurs when people spend more time crafting their image than in developing their character; when they work to appear loving instead of being loving; when they make a show of generosity rather than living with generosity as a habit; or when they talk about trusting others, while their actions betray they are suspicious.

The tension between image and reality happens in almost every area of life.

For instance, the “manage the image” habit is keenly felt in today’s work environment.  Corporate life is filled with people who want to appear as leaders, but largely function as managers.

We’ve all been there.

We want to seem as though we’re “in charge” when “out of control” feels more accurate. In order to compensate, we resort to micromanaging people and tightening the information reins.  We work overtime to stay informed and lash out whenever we feel “out of the loop.”  In this kind of misbehavior, we turn our leadership skills into a mirage.  We communicate the opposite of our intentions; we communicate fear instead of confidence, pettiness rather than significance.

Great leaders are willing to forget about their images, face reality, and ultimately do the hard work of building their character.

Where do you spend your time?