Find Your Road to Character

I find the end of summeris a great time for reflection. For many business professionals, summer is often a sweaty mix of work and relaxation; of beach vacations, family reunions and weddings; of far-away conferences, midyear performance check-ins and end-of-year planning.

My summer has been especially packed, both with exciting events and work. With four weddings, two weekend trips to Boston, a vacation in Puerto Rico and a post-SHRM conference stay in Las Vegas, I’ve had my share of leisure. All these activities came amid the hustle of putting together Talent Management each month in addition to planning for 2016.

Yet, with summer winding down, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what drives human character, specifically as it relates to management and leadership. Blame it on the throng of self-help leadership books prominently displayed in airport bookstores, a place I often found myself this summer.

In business, we often define who we are by our external accomplishments — by our titles, work histories, management accomplishments and leadership styles. We also do this in our personal lives. Thanks to Facebook, almost nobody’s life milestone or accomplishment goes unnoticed.

What’s more, publications encourage us to promote our “personal brand,” broadcast every accomplishment, get noticed and make yourself stand out to be successful.

In David Brooks’ book “The Road to Character,” these so-called “résumé virtues” represent a straightforward utilitarian logic, or “input leads to output,” Brooks writes. This mindset neglects what he calls “eulogy virtues,” things like whether you’re kind, brave, honest or faithful, as well as what kind of relationships you form and sustain.

Most of us would agree that eulogy virtues are more important than résumé virtues, but we spend a disproportionate amount of time and effort on the latter. This provides little space for reflection. There are important lessons I think we can learn from this character-building distinction.

First, it’s worth taking time to acknowledge that this distinction of character exists. Sure, we should always strive to be kind, but most of our conscious energy goes into strengthening things that improve external success.

This leads to the second lesson: Take time to rebalance the effort you put into résumé and eulogy virtues. Neither should be neglected. Thinking more deeply about your eulogy virtues will ultimately bring purpose and clarity to your résumé virtues.

Instead of blindly following vague notions of external success, develop an understanding of what eulogy virtues are important to you — like helping others’ careers through kindness or building meaningful relationships.

Lastly, I think the most important lesson in Brooks’ book is that we shouldn’t let the desire to achieve résumé virtues overtake the need to develop strong eulogy virtues.

Ultimately, the people we work with and manage are part of a shared human experience. Most of us have to work for a living, and the race for profit and organizational efficiency can sometimes muddy the humanity of the at-work experience.

 That’s not to say the cold realities of business should be ignored, but we shouldn’t lose our sense of humility, compassion, empathy or kindness. While we may spend a lot of time consumed in the minutiae of work, the character legacy we build will come from the small doses of eulogy virtues we discover and act on every day.