This blog post has been adapted from John Maxwell’s leadership guidebook The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. If you’re looking for more personal growth and leadership insights, you can purchase a copy of this book here.
“Without character, there is no credibility – and without credibility, there is no trust.” Warren G. Bennis, American scholar, professor, author, and organizational consultant
When you hear the word “communication,” what comes to mind?
Many of us might think of conversation – verbally conveying information. The words we use are our most conscious and intentional acts of communication. And since we speak on average about 16,000 words per day, it’s only natural for us to connect communication with what we say.
But what’s really doing the communicating?
It’s often said that the vast majority of communication transcends words. Body language researcher Albert Mehrabian changed the world’s understanding of communication when his work concluded that how we say it matters more than what we say. He discovered that vocal cadence communicates more than words – and facial expressions and body language, even more so. Our tone and posture reveal more than the words we choose.
But there’s something that speaks volumes louder still – something broadcasting loud and clear to every important relationship in our lives.
Character: Communicating Trust to Build Up Relationships and Results
British statesman John Morely once observed, “No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.”
Character lives underneath words, facial expressions, and body language – setting priorities, determining actions, and directing decisions. Character communicates directly and authentically, and it provides those around us with a completely infallible litmus test of whether or not we are worthy of the foundational element of all relationships: trust.
Whether you’re earning influence among others or improving your personal relationships, your character should communicate to them…
Now that the new year is here, efforts to fulfill resolutions are in full swing. Change-chasers everywhere are making grand sweeping gestures to overhaul their habits. Gyms are crowded; budgeting software is selling out; and smokers are quitting cold turkey.
But only in the coming weeks will the content of their character be revealed. When we are committed to our goals, our relationships, and our priorities, we show up consistently and earn credibility.
Think of Christian leader Billy Graham. Regardless of their beliefs, everyone trusted him as a leader. Why? Because he modeled high character for his entire career. He lived out his values every day, in stark contrast to other high-profile Christian figures in the 1980s who fell prey to moral scandal. While their lack of consistency compromised their ability to lead and marred the public image of church leaders in the US, Graham lived out his values daily. He kept his commitments and went out of his way to personify integrity.
When it comes to wins, ice hockey coach Mike Keenan stands head and shoulders above most other NHL coaches.
His record boasts the fifth greatest number of regular-season wins, the third greatest number of playoff victories, six division titles, four NHL final appearances, and one Stanley Cup. He is also the only head coach to have won championships in both the National Hockey League and the Kontinental Hockey League, the two most notable professional ice hockey leagues in the world.
But in spite of these commendable credentials, Keenan was also notorious for his inability to stay with a single team for any length of time during his career.
In eleven and a half seasons, he coached four different teams. And after his stint with the fourth team – the St. Louis Blues – he was unable to land a job for a long time. Why? Sportswriter E. M. Swift said of Keenan, “The reluctance to hire Keenan is easily explicable. Everywhere he has been, he has alienated players and management with his mind games and desire for absolute control.”
Evidently, his players didn’t trust him – and neither did the owners, even though they were benefiting from seeing their teams win. Even getting results couldn’t keep Keenan employed. How much more could he have achieved if he valued their needs?
When valuing others is a central part of our character, we prioritize our relationship with them. This instills them with a trust that allows more to come of the relationship in the future.
Consistency commits to something. Potential lies dormant or becomes realized. But unlike those two ideals, respect is a more nebulous concept – where it begins and where it ends might differ from person to person or culture to culture. While there are some clear-cut boundaries, there are also a million unwritten rules.
But strong character communicates respect regardless. At its core, respect is deference – seeing another as equal to yourself and acting with that in mind.
The character of Civil War colonel Robert Gould Shaw communicates respect even now, more than 150 years after his death in the Union assault on South Carolina’s Fort Wagner.
Shaw, a white officer, took command of the African-American regiment, oversaw recruiting, selected the officers, equipped the men,k and trained them as soldiers. He drove them hard, knowing that their performance in battle would either vindicate or condemn the value of black people as soldiers and citizens in the minds of many white Northerners. In the process, both the soldiers and Shaw earned one another’s respect.
Shaw would not survive the battle. Nearly half of the six-hundred-man regiment would also perish. The assault would not even successfully capture the Southern stronghold. But the lot fought all the more vigorously because Shaw stood at the forefront of the fray.Shaw’s actions on that final day solidified the respect his men already had for him. Two weeks after the battle, Albanus Fisher, a sergeant in the Fifty-fourth, said, “I still feel more Eager for the struggle than I ever yet have, for I now wish to have Revenge for our galant Curnel [sic].” J. R. Miller once observed, “The only thing that walks back from the tomb with the mourners and refuses to be buried is the character of a man. This is true. What a man is survives him. It can never be buried.” Shaw’s character, strong to the last, had communicated a level of respect to his men that lived beyond him.
Are you setting yourself up for personal growth in 2023?
At Maxwell Leadership, our heart is personal growth and development. It is so much part of our DNA that at our twice-annual event, the International Maxwell Conference, we have an entire day dedicated to personal growth – and we’d like to invite you to join.
On March 13, 2023, join Dr. John C. Maxwell and his panel of personal growth experts at the Marriott World Center in Orlando, Florida (or remotely!) for an entire day of growth and development training. Not only will you connect with other professionals passionate about achieving their full potential, but you’ll also go home equipped with an intentional action plan to begin putting in place same-day.
You can register for Personal Growth Day here – we would love to grow with you!