Cheap Shots - Wally Skalij | Los Angeles Times 5-8-2011The Dallas Mavericks swept the LA Lakers in four games. One of the unfortunate things about this series was the number of players ejected from the games, and they were all from the LA Lakers. Both Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum were ejected from Game 4 alone.

If you want to gain an insight into this, check out this article entitled NBA Playoffs: You can’t tarnish the Lakers’ franchise legacy, but their team sure tried.

This example raises the question about how leaders act when the game isn’t going as planned. Frustration runs high. Tolerance runs low. How do you act? What shines through as your character?

Challenging times have a way of highlighting character weaknesses. They test your grit and soul in how you maneuver through the difficult plays and finish the game.

NBA games can give a glimpse of how individuals and teams respond, and it is magnified through millions of TV screens and follow-on articles. All the players know they are viewed through an electronic window, yet the public nature of what they do is ignored sometimes. The more important test may be what is done when people are not watching, especially when your character wilts when people are.

What do you do when the chips are down?

We all encounter these moments. It could be when team members need to leave the organization for performance issues – personal or organization. It could be when you run a light and are stopped by the police. Do you admit guilt? It could be when someone tempts you with inappropriate actions, but the moment just “feels” right. It could be when a challenging co-worker just keeps coming at you in various ways, and you wear down. How do you respond? Do you take cheap shots, or do you keep your actions in check with what is right and appropriate?

I remember a moment when I knew I was going to leave my job and attend college to get an MBA. A friend and I were walking around a park and just happened to see a wallet on the side of the path. I picked it up, and several hundred dollars in cash were freshly tucked inside.

Now, was I tempted? Of course I was. Money was going to be limited for the next two years. Any extra cash would be welcomed. Although tempting, it made my character uncomfortable unless I called to return it, so I called the next day. The person was extremely grateful that we found it. The wallet belonged to a priest who was scheduled to leave at the end of the week on a mission. Wow! What a test! I was glad I passed one small character test, but it reminded of the importance of listening to your spirit and keeping yourself in check.

Somehow, in these no-one-is-looking or heat-of- the-moment tests, we need to lean on our character rather than pass it by.

There are two ways to look at this. First, if our character is strong, but weakens during challenging times, we need to find ways to salvage and re-gain our strength of character in those moments. Second, if our character is weak, and we hit challenging times, then we need to find way to find ways to build our character.

What do we do?

In the strong character, weak moment scenarios, we need to dig deep inside and think about how our sons or daughters would view our actions. Are we setting a good example?  We need to think about how our parents would react to our actions? Do our actions make them proud? We need to find those ways to stay centered and stay true to our good character.

In the weak character, weak moment scenarios, we need to strengthen our character through reading books which build a foundation inside us. We need to find a mentor or someone we can talk to about our thoughts and actions and seek guidance. We need people who will hold us accountable. If the character foundation is weak, then character building activities need to happen. This is a more challenging scenario, but one of the more critical ones to pursue if there is where you fall.

Our character defines us, and it shines through in good and tough times. The brightness should be un-flickering in either case.

How do you avoid cheap shots during frustrating times? How do you continue to strengthen your character?