With the Inauguration of President Obama the day after the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, there has been a new focus on King’s words and message. In sharing Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with a leadership group at a Boys and Girls Club in Washington, DC, we discussed what he might have meant by his statement, “I want my four little children to be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”
Everyone can agree to the universal validity of this statement now, but what, more specifically did he mean? What, more precisely is “the content of our character?” The group of 22 High School students gave us answers very similar to the ones we prepared and shared.
- Wisdom-is good judgment. The ability to make reasoned decisions, good for us and for society in general.
- Justice-this means respecting the rights of all people.
- Fortitude-this enables us to do the right thing in the face of resistance or difficulty.
- Self Control-This is the ability to govern oneself. This may be the toughest of all!
- Love-Love is more than fairness or justice, its essence is living for the sake of others.
- Positive Attitude-If you have a negative attitude, you end up being a burden not only to yourself, but to others. Our attitude is something we can choose and change.
- Hard Work-The father of success is hard work. Without it, nothing meaningful is achieved.
- Integrity-Integrity is adhering to moral principles. Some see this only as telling the truth to others. More basically, it is telling the truth to oneself.
- Gratitude-We can choose to be grateful, to give thanks. When we do, our life and circumstances all seem manageable and hope is restored.
- Humility-The ability to see our own imperfections and foibles, allows us to change, grow and develop.
This is certainly not in inexhaustible list; you can certainly add your own. These are universal and objective qualities, because they go to the essence of what it means to be human. They are also not driven by any ideology or religious persuasion. All faiths rightly claim these.
How do these relate to excellence and processes? Briefly, we want our children, employees, suppliers and all our interactions to be governed by these qualities. Don’t you agree? We want ethical relationships. But we don’t just want people to act ethically; we want them to be excellent in what they do. If you go to a doctor, you don’t want him or her to just be ethical; you want them to be competent, to be excellent in their capacity as a physician.
And if we want our commercial activities to be successful, profitable and sustainable, we too must be ethical and excellent.
There are many tools that can be used to improve your processes and activities in your enterprise. Lean and Six Sigma are seen widely as an array of tools that can be employed to make our enterprises excellent. More on these tools later.
How we become and remain ethical is the topic of another discussion as well.
Character Matters by Thomas Lickona
Copyright 2004 and published by Simon & Schuster, Inc.