As a coach, we ask a lot of our players. As leaders we ask a lot of our team members. What is the one trait that we should look for when building the perfect team? Character. Professional sports do not seem to be as concerned with character as players continually use bad judgement and work to cheat the game yet are allowed back, and in many cases, allowed back to the starting and starring roles on their team. So what is character? Is it something we can teach?
Reputation is the shadow. Character is the tree – Abraham Lincoln
Character is more than what we do. It is who we are. While your reputation is based on character, it is merely the beliefs that others hold about you. Your reputation is built by the opinions of others. The US NAVY S.E.A.L.S like to believe that “your reputation is everything.” You are what people believe you are. If you have a reputation of being a good person, then you are a good person. The opposite is also true. However, you are what you are. If you are a good person, then you will create that reputation. Character is who you are.
You want to build your team on character. It is easy to get mesmerized by the talent and forget about character, but this is just as important when dealing with the roller coaster and mental challenges of a long season. Jon Gordon once wrote in on his blog that, “Character drives talent toward greatness. Character guides and drives your team members to be their best and bring out the best in others.”
Two Components of Character
There are two components to character. Performance character is based on maximizing performance in every aspect of life. We all look for those team members who give their best at every endeavor, and the ones who continually handle the tough times without losing faith in the process. these members drive the culture of the team. Moral character is always choosing the honest and ethical thing. As coaches we look for players who will honor the game, their teammates, and the opponents. We want members who make good decisions outside of the locker room and influence others to do the same. There are times where these two worlds fall in conflict and moral character should win the debate. In the ideal world, we look to build a team whose members are strong in both areas of character.
Everyone exhibits different character traits. That is what makes each of us different. Some of us have a strong moral character, where others are more loose. However, there are a few traits I like to think are consistent with good team members.
- Honesty – When developing a team, honesty is one of the most important traits to hold. Not only must a team member be honest, they must be willing to give an honest effort. They must be true to their word, and they must establish the trust with others that they will “do what they say they will do.” A person who is honest with their teammates and honest with themselves will contribute to a positive team culture.
- Commitment/Loyalty – I can write novels on this topic, but a person who is committed to their team, their coach and their organization will elevate the team culture. As a coach, i am looking for someone who can be content in their current situation with their current team rather than always looking for a way out or the next best thing.
- Mental Maturity – A person with strong character has the ability to handle adversity As stated many times before, every team will face adversity on their journey towards success. A person who can achieve in the face of adversity will always have a place on my team. It takes GRIT to be successful, and this is a trait that should be present in order to achieve at a high level.
Why is Character Important?
It is what makes people believe in you. Character is the most important asset you have in your toolbox. It takes a lifetime of decisions and actions to build your character, yet it can be destroyed in an instant. Character gives way to trust, and without trust, as Patrick Lencioni writes in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, you compromise the first pillar in establishing a positive team culture.
As a leader, we should not only model character, but we should look to surround ourselves with other members who model character. Character seems to be a lost value. As a youth coach, part of our responsibility to young athletes is to educate and build character in our teams. It is a life skill that will translate into future success outside of the sport.