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Why Your Character Defines Your Success in Business

This article explores how Christian entrepreneurs can approach personal development from a biblical perspective, emphasizing the Holy Spirit's role in producing Christ-like character traits and the importance of forming Christ-like habits through sanctification.

Back in the 90s, I used to watch a show called "The Real World." Seven to eight young adults are picked to temporarily live in a new city together in one residence while being filmed non-stop.

In the first episode of each new season, these perfect strangers would all meet for the first time. Everyone was polite, happy, well put together, and well-mannered. However, as each new episode came out, everyone's "true colors" started to shine. As the show's tagline famously said: over time, people stop being fake and start becoming real.

The same thing happens to us in business. Partnerships always start out amazing, then someone's true character comes out, the relationship is tested, and most of the times, it dissolves. New employees begin working and everyone's on their best behavior at the beginning, but after a few months, big character flaws start to show up and one or both sides become dissatisfied.

How come the behaviors exhibited at the beginning of a relationship don't always match up with the true character of a person over time?

When author Stephen Covey wrote his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he was on a quest to truly understand the nature of success when he came upon this same behavior vs character phenomenon.

He discovered that, generally speaking, there are two ways to strive for improvements to your life:

  1. Change a Behavior

  2. Experience a Character Change

The first method is to work on the skills necessary for the behavior you desire. For instance, if you want to win more clients or have greater influence over employees, you might work on skills like memorizing people's names or remembering to show more appreciation.

The author calls this method the "personality ethic." Despite its sounding like a solid path for growth as business leaders, it’s actually just a shortcut. The personality ethic lets us avoid working on the fundamental character traits that are holding us back in our business growth, promising that some easily learnable technique will be the silver bullet for all our problems. Unfortunately, this promise is usually empty, and it almost never results in lasting personal growth.

The author stresses that the second method is far more effective: working on your character – that is, the fundamental habits and belief systems that form your view of the world. Only behavior stemming straight from your character will endure over time, because, sooner or later, your true character will shine through.

Mr. Covey calls this the "character ethic," and it emphasizes things like courage, integrity and the golden rule. For example, if I have a problem with always being late to meetings, dropping the ball on projects, and never finishing what I start, then people aren't going to trust me and I'll have a difficult time succeeding as an entrepreneur. I can try techniques like setting my alarm for meetings or the Pomodoro technique for working on projects, but my real problem is that I have integrity issues. Unless I work to become a person of more integrity, I'll always suffer from certain personality flaws.

The personality ethic vs character ethic answers the question of how entrepreneurs could start out being so nice and perfect in a relationship, and then become jerks over time - it's because, eventually, a person's true character will show.

The author concludes if we really want to change, we need to work from the inside out - we must focus our personal development work on our character.

What Does this Mean for Christian Entrepreneurs?

The good news for us Christian entrepreneurs is that this is exactly how God designed transformation to come about in us. God isn't interested in a few temporary behavior changes, he's looking for us to make total character changes - a transformation of the mind. It is not through our works, our goodness, or our own self-righteousness that we are reconciled to God (Ephesian 2:8-9). We cannot clean ourselves up (behavior ethic), thinking somehow our works will earn us favor with the Father. The Pharisees tried, but Jesus condemned them (Luke 11:37-44).

So how does one go about working on character changes? How do you improve integrity, dependability, kindness, empathy, or courage? How long does this take? When do you know you've changed for sure?

First, let's be clear that it's the Holy Spirit's job to produce Christ-like character in you.

The Holy Spirit produces character traits that are representative of Jesus. The apostle Paul referred to these characteristics as the fruit of the Spirit.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT)

This process of changing us to be more like Jesus is called sanctification. You can't reproduce the character of Jesus on your own or by your own strength. New Year's resolutions, willpower, and best intentions are not enough. And it doesn't happen overnight and there is no magic pill. It takes faith alone - for the rest of our lives.

So how does God use the Holy Spirit to work on our character? You do it by forming Christ-like habits.

Over the next series of posts, we'll explore this through the author's identification of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Stay tuned.

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