Fred Kiel’s book Return on Character focuses on the importance of strong moral character traits in the leaders of today. Kiel’s book is about business, but many of the ideas he expresses go well beyond business and can manifest in our every day life. The central idea to Kiel’s book is that those who are truly successful in life are individuals with high moral character. He continues with a business focus to say that those companies who are the most successful and provide the most value to their customers, employees, communities, and societies are lead by truly virtuous leaders with strong moral characters.
In looking at character and what it means to have a strong character Kiel quotes E. O. Wilson from his book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge:
“True character rises from a deeper well than religion. It is the internalization of the moral principles of a society, augmented by those tenets personally chosen by the individual, strong enough to endure through trials of solitude and diversity. The principles are fitted together into what we call … the integrated self, wherein personal decisions feel good and true. Character is in turn the enduring source of virtue. It stands by itself and excites admiration in others. It is not obedience to authority, and while it is often consistent with and reinforced by religious belief, it is not piety.”
Kiel explains this quote by examining the way that an individual with high character is able to recognize the behaviors expected and accepted as morally correct in a society. The quote also shows that the individual has a choice to accept these behaviors, and then choose how to incorporate those behaviors into their life. Kiel shows that those with the strongest moral character are able to do this in a way that will best amplify those positive traits beyond what is simply expected.
I like this quote because it shows the dynamic nature of morals and character, and it reflects on the ways in which we can use self awareness and reflection to boost our character. Through our power of reason we are able to recognize the behaviors and characteristics we find to be helpful or harmful to ourselves, those around us, or those in society who are affected by our decisions. Through reason, we are able to consider our actions and reactions, and develop a practice that allows us to move toward developing a better character.
In his book 59 Seconds psychologist Richard Wiseman evaluated research on how to maximize our time to bring about the desired results that we want in our lives. He examined everything from creativity, to success, and happiness. When researching creativity Wiseman found that our environment and emotional feelings toward our environment played a large role in our creativity. Wiseman writes, “When people feel worried, they become very focused, concentrate on the task at hand, become risk-averse, rely on well-established habits and routines, and see the world through less-creative eyes. In contrast when people feel at ease in a situation, they’re more likely to explore new and unusual ways of thinking and behaving, see the bigger picture, take risks, and think and act more creatively.”
I think this is a powerful section from Wiseman and one that I wish I could share with every business leader. Encouraging employees to be more creative and push for new ideas can help a company grow and succeed, but many employers don’t give their employees a chance to be creative, and they expect them to be in simple boxes where their routine is set and their actions are limited. Focusing on your employees environment and attitude can help an employer create a place where employees are more at ease and able to think more creatively to build better habits and produce better results. I am currently reading Return on Character by Fred Kiel, and the thesis of his work is that leaders and CEO’s who focus on building an organization focused around integrity, honesty, and forgiveness provide greater returns for their companies, employees, and stakeholders. When we consider Wiseman’s quote about people becoming more creative in relaxed environments, we can see how Kiel’s CEO’s who create those environments become more successful. By maintaining a strong moral character a CEO can create a space where employees feel welcomed to perform their best and are not restricted in their actions and approaches to greatness.
However, I am afraid that sharing this quote with every business leader could backfire. Those employers who do not see their employees as being in creative positions may read that quote and think that they can put their employees under pressure to have them focus better on the single task at hand as opposed to being distracted by the people and environment around them. The quote could be read to suggest that developing well established habits and putting employees into risk-averse mindsets may be useful for employees who work specific and routine jobs. This idea falls flat when you think about wanting to be a company that excels, with employees that excel at every position, especially if that employee performs any sort of customer service function. Encouraging the creativity of employees by helping them fee comfortable and relaxed at work will lead to better results when employees are free to be creative and break away from ordinary habits. When they are worried they will not risk trying something new in their daily routine and will never develop a habit that could drastically improve the quality of the work they produce.
In the end, I think we need to try and understand creativity as being something that we all have access to. Wiseman’s quote shows that building supportive environments and bing at ease helps people become more creative. Those who deal with a high amount of anxiety tend to display a less creative vision and provide less innovation.
Self-centeredness and materialism are two of the topics Richard Wiseman touches on in his book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot. Wiseman looks at how making purchases affects our happiness, and compares spending money on items versus spending money on experiences. As he explains, research suggests that spending money on experiences leads to greater and more sustained happiness by creating social interactions leading to positive memories and stories for the future.
Wiseman continues to dive into the world of shopping and happiness and explains a study by Elizabeth Dunn which evaluated peoples scores on a questionnaire meant to measure their level of materialism. The study asked what the individuals would do if they had $40,000 to spend. “Materialists spend, on average, three times as much on things for themselves as they do on things for others,” Wiseman writes, “Also, when they are asked to rate statements about the degree to which they care for others (“i enjoy having guests stay in my house,” “I often lend things to my friends”), they end up giving far more self-centered responses.” Wiseman’s section on materialism is not surprising. Our culture pushes us to want to be impressive and to make purchases that will display our success and high status. The research shows that people who are more materialistic tend to also act in more self-centered ways. Wiseman continues to explain Dunn’s research, “from the perspective of happiness, this self-centeredness can have a detrimental effect on people’s happiness.”
What Wiseman explains is that our brains are wired to make us social creatures. We depend on and rely on others, and when it comes to spending money to make us happy, purchasing experiences that can bring us closer to others is more effective than purchasing items for ourselves.
I am currently working on a book called Return on Character by Fred Kiel, in which he examines leaders in the business world, their character, and the performance of their enterprise. What Kiel’s research shows is that those CEO’s who tend to be more self-focused don’t produce the same results as CEO’s who are more caring, empathetic, and operate with a strong character. This is in line with Wiseman’s findings about happiness and self-centeredness. Those CEO’s who are self-focused are more likely to be materialistic, less likely to be happy, and don’t stick to the same values and morals that drive the (as Kiel puts them) virtuoso CEO’s. When your company is run by people who are less happy and act in self-centered ways, the leadership team is likely to be less interactive with employees, and they are less likely to create a work environment based on integrity and positivity. This in turn can bring the entire company apart, as apposed to creating an organization that pulls all of its members together.