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  • Kathryn Johnson, MA

The Character Balance

“Employers want it in their employees, employees want it in their bosses. We all want it in our kids. It’s called character.”

Michael Josephson

Items on Office Desk. Photo by RawPixel

Character. It’s a word discussed, maybe even argued over, time and time again. Why is it so important, not just in our personal lives, but in our professional lives?

In his book, Road to Character, David Brooks delves into the lives of some of the world’s greatest leaders (from Doretha Day to Dwight Eisenhower) to discover how they came to build a strong character despite the internal struggle and limitations we all face. Calling for a balanced life of resume and moral achievements, Brooks compels us to rethink our priorities, and to create a so-called moral bucket list, “We set goals for ourselves every day to develop our skills and achieve some type of success. We don’t often think of our moral aspirations in the same way – of how we want to not only do better but be better.”

So why is a Virtual Assistant writing about character? Your character in the workplace says volumes about your non-workplace self, and the two should be recognizable to your peers. We equate those with good character with trust and integrity. And since character isn’t a hereditary trait, we thankfully can all strive for the good of it. It is the ultimate ethics in action. How we act and react to situations reveals a lot about character.

So how does this ethics in action apply to the small business owner? Setting yourself apart from the competition can come down the character of you and your employees. When employees maintain a high level of character, you gain the attraction of new clients and keep them as loyal clients. There is something deeply rooted in a transaction between people. We’ve all been there – where we felt mislead when purchasing something or when a contract wasn’t honored. And it didn’t matter how significant or insignificant the item or the contract was, as humans, dishonesty deeply offends us.

Women Working At Desk. Photo by Hannah Olinger

When an employee of a small business operates in a trustworthy manner – demonstrating respect regardless of the opportunity and taking responsibility for their actions – this character has a very significant real impact – your business’ reputation. Renowned character educator, Michael Josephson explains that reputation “is not only the result of what people think of us it often determines what people who don’t know us think about us, treat us and whether we are held in high or low esteem.”

Hiring employees who demonstrate similar character traits as you and your small business projects will set the tone for your entire workplace, and it holds you accountable too. Treating one another with respect and mentoring promotes a teamwork environment resulting in a positive work environment, and ultimately setting the tone for how you want your employees to treat your clients or customers. We all have witnessed a customer service experience where it was clear that the employee didn’t enjoy their job. And when that’s reflected, your business’ success and reputation diminish.

And you can expand that reach to what your business does for its local community. Are you even considering what’s best for the community? Are you supporting other small business’ because it’s bringing more opportunity to the community rather than your bottom line? Choosing positive advertising messages or volunteering to support the community can have significant impacts on your business. Evolving into the business that takes care of its community, not because it looks good in the press, but because it’s the more moral aspiration will skyrocket your business’ character. And I’m not implying that your business build a new park for the community but that you invest in our clients. Know what their likes are and remind them that you’re listening.

We’ve established some ideas to build character in your business, but how do you build them in your employees? Maybe you have your list of characteristics your ideal employee has, but how do you tell from an interview if your potential employee really has those characteristics? Former Porsche CEO, Peter W. Schutz’s mantra “hire for character, train for skills” is a good start.

We all have heard the saying, “honesty is the best policy.” Let’s apply this character trait to hiring an employee. People apply to jobs that pique their interest, not necessarily because they meet all the requirements. In an interview, we’re often asked to examine our greatest weakness. Ask yourself if you want the cliché “I’m a perfectionist or I work too hard” answer or would you prefer the professional courtesy of the honest answer about the interviewees’ skills and limitations. Focus on the accurate. You’re more likely to hire someone who acknowledges a legitimate weakness.

If I’m asked about my knowledge with a specific program, I acknowledge my familiarity or unfamiliarity. I refrain from self-promoting around the topic and have an honest discussion. With time, I can easily learn a new program. My clients embrace my skill set and willingness to learn more skills to better serve them. In admitting my inadequacies, I’m revealing that I’m self-aware to know where I can improve and that I’m professional enough to be open about it.

An interviewee should always show you what they can bring to the table, so to speak, and not what they pretend to bring. It speaks volumes about their character.

So, hire for character. Build the skills. Strengthen your reputation.

About the Author

Kathryn Johnson, MA

Kathryn founded KJ Virtual Assistance in 2016 on the sole principle that you should love the work you do. When reflecting on past positions, there was a prominent trend in administrative roles ranking amongst her favorite. From her time in the Operations Department at the University of Miami to assisting her College Chaplain, the various aspects of a support role have always fulfilled her. A career in Virtual Assistance highlights her self-motivated work ethic, strong interpersonal skills and rigorous attention to detail. Learn More About Kathryn.

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