Wake Up Your Character

By May 30, 2012Millennial

Wake Up Your CharacterCharacter is often discussed. However, it is commonly done in terms of values and leadership styles. It becomes a surface-level talk, almost naïve in approach. Yes, our character may be apparent in meetings, conversations, and good times, but how does it really work when faced with everyday reality?

During the past several weeks, I have been participating in an online leadership class, facilitated by the Willow Creek Association and Dr. Henry Cloud, author of Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality.

Early in his book, Dr. Cloud defines character in the following way:

“Character = the ability to meet the demands of reality.”

This definition of character seems odd at first, but then it begins to sink in. We face all sorts of reality. When our reality is going well, it may be easier for our character to shine bright. When our reality encounters challenging situations or people, our character may dim. In both cases, reality is demanding something of us, and we need to respond with our character in full.

Another essential aspect of character is integration. It is described as:

“The integrated character feels the same hunger and awareness of the drive in all areas, the relational, spiritual, intellectual, and other aspects. In that, they create balance, and growth in one area fuels growth in another.”

For our character to be robust, it needs to be fueled in different ways but always in balance. We need to face the truth about our character and where it stands – absorbing it, learning from it, and (re)building it. Meeting the demands of reality requires our integrated, composed character. It is the only way to face reality and leave the right wake with our choices and actions.

All of this relates to a moment of truth. What happens when a negative situation appears? How do we handle it? Do we ignore it?

Does our integrated character rise to the challenge?

“…our look at character is twofold: First, integrated character does not avoid negatives, but does the opposite – actively seeks them out to resolve them. Second, integrated character does not see facing negatives only as something painful, but as an opportunity to make things better and get to a good place.”

Leading and living are both about solving problems, not sidestepping them and hope they self-resolve. It doesn’t work! Our character needs to step up and forward!

“If you fail to confront, you will lose. But, if you confront poorly, you will also lose. So, you must confront, but confront well. That means that the truth-telling side of your character must be integrated with the loving and caring side of your character… Confront the problem, but in a way that preserves the relationship and the person.”

Again, it comes down to our wake. If we choose to ignore a problem, the wake we leave behind churns in an unsettled way, creating greater waves and larger problems. With our wake in mind, we should not attack the person or create political situations; we need to address the issue. As Dr. Cloud says, it is a balance – an integrated character approach:  “I try to go hard on the issue and soft on the person.”

We need to confront the situation, but it shouldn’t be adversarial at a personal level. Confront, after all, means “to turn your face toward.” It is meeting a person or situation eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart. Unresolved issues gnaw and irritate, and something will burst.

Untouched, what this translates into is people leaving organizations, culture disintegrating into finger-pointing, and individuals losing character traits embraced during good times. Leaving negative issues unsettled begins the quickening, circular, and draining motions within a person, team, and organization.

Our characterour leadership – needs to rise to the situational challenge. It is about ownership and integration. We need to own the good, the bad, and the indifferent. We need to own the problem and resolve it with head-on grace. We need to ensure our character is integrated to support actions in all types of situations.

In full confession, I am guilty. I have let issues slide, because it was easier. I have let problems fester, because ignoring them preserved a false peace. My character was imbalanced, and I was leaving a negative wake. Reading these pages was like a fist in my gut, full on realization of the pain I was bringing to myself and, worse, what I was leaving undone, unsaid, and unaddressed.

It seems easier to side-step, yet that is not what leaders with integrated character do, is it? We need to solve the problem by focusing on the issues while maintaining the relationship as best we can.

Although I had to swallow hard on this one, I felt something inside that popped with inspiration. This is a change I can make and have made already. It is not about personally attacking someone. It is about attacking the issue fully until resolved and doing it with a graceful spirit and an open mind of understanding. This is the leadership opportunity!

Is it tough? Yes.

It is necessary? Absolutely.

Why do it?

  • We need to leave a complete and transparent wake behind. Any below the surface problems need to be addressed.
  • Our character determines whether or not we can deliver, meaning our goals are achieved successfully and people are fulfilled.
  • Our wake needs to be clear, steady, and direct – full of purpose-filled actions and grace-filled relationships.

How are you addressing negative issues and challenging situations? Are you leading with an integrated, well-balanced character across the spectrum of daily activities?


Note: A special thanks to the Willow Creek Association for enabling me to participate in the Leadership Institute for Transformation (LIFT) class entitled Leading for Results. It is from this class, designed by Dr. Cloud, in which this blog post is inspired.

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Hiten Vyas says:

    Hi Jon,

    This was a very powerful post and it reminded me of the true nature of
    problems. Life is full of obstacles and hurdles. Sometimes these can seem so
    daunting we choose to ignore. I’ve also been guilty of doing so. However, as we
    all know, ignoring doesn’t resolve the issues.

    Problems will always be there. We can choose though, how much significance we
    give them and the approach we use to solve them. We can either become
    overwhelmed, or we can look at them with curiosity and patience, and give
    ourselves the opportunity to solve them in a peaceful and more balanced way.

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Hiten, for your insightful comment. Yes, we need to resolve issues; it is a part of life. Facing them with an opportunity mindset is a good way… Great addition to the conversation. Grateful! Jon

  • Randy Conley says:

    Thank you, Jon, for the much needed reminder and encouragement. I’ve been dealing with a very challenging situation recently and have found myself hoping it would come to a quick and easy resolution. But I’ve had this nagging feeling that I was meant to walk the tougher path with this situation because the Lord has some lessons he’s trying to teach me about my character, motivations, and purpose as a leader. Sometimes leadership is a messy affair, and if we’re going to keep growing and improving, we have to embrace the character-building moments as whole-heartedly as we do the “easy” times.

    Take care,


    • Jon M says:

      As tough as it is, embracing the “messy” situations is what needs to be done as a leader, if we want to lead fully and effectively. They are tough, but they are “character-building” moments, as you state. Appreciate your insights, Randy, and all the best in taking the tougher path… I have a feeling you will embrace it successfully! Thank you. Jon

  • Kath Roberts says:

    Great post Jon-its such a fascinating subject, the issue of character rather than competence of a leader. We need both of course but the character is the inner stuff and the competence the outer results. I always try and walk the middle path, but I don’t always manage it of course. When we can it keeps us balanced , humble and centered because our heart and head are aligned. I watch out for what feelings come up for me and try and examine what’s behind them. Generally I know if my actions are coming from that loving unlimited part or that ego aspect which is generally showing me an aspect that needs healing.

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Kath, for your thoughtful comment and insights. Self awareness is essential to keep ourselves balanced in approach, life, and leadership. Appreciate your voice in the conversation! Jon

  • Erin Schreyer says:

    I love Henry Cloud too!  Thanks for this wonderful summary and your additional insights, Jon.  Very well done!!

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, Erin. I really enjoyed the book and the course. I heard Henry Cloud speak last year at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, and he was excellent. Appreciate your feedback. Thank you! Jon

  • Wonderful article Jon … I especially like “you must confront, but confront well.” To some degree that also brings us back to the ‘timing is everything’ axiom … at the same time I do agree that it’s better to deal with issues while they are fresh and relatively small rather than allowing them to grow and ultimately take on a life of their own.

    • Jon M says:

      Marquita, Thanks for you comment and, I agree, that timing is important. Letting things slide will just make them even more challenging later on. Appreciate your comment and insights! Jon

  • GrandmaOnDeck says:

    How often times we let things slide hoping problems will go away in time.Owning up on a daily basis gives you the practice needed for a welled balanced character across the board daily.

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