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Today is Character Day

Today is Character Day

People often ask me why I’ve devoted my life’s work to building a framework and assessments that help people grow character. The simple answer is that I noticed a need in myself and in those around me when I was a young leader. To me, it seemed, we wasted an awful lot of time and energy doing a dance with one another’s egos. Like someone got their feelings hurt and felt excluded because they were not invited to a certain meeting. Or one department was mad at another for being “disrespectful” toward them in their opinion. Or someone who is more disciplined than another might demand others work on their timeline. When I started looking, our ego sensitivities were everywhere! The good news was that I also noticed us doing something else that I liked very much. Being productive. Using our minds and skills to learn how to do something better or faster. Using our imagination to solve a complex problem in a very inventive way. 

I asked our HR experts what to do to help people focus more on being in flow in their work and they said personality assessments was the answer. So, I hired a consultant and planned a retreat. Unfortunately, all that did was encourage people to dig their heels in even deeper. I heard things like “my type is the best one” and “you people drive me crazy!” after the session. Hmmm. Not the answer I was hoping for. I knew we were close, but no cigar. So, I kept looking.  Then one day I read that our personality is only a predisposition but it’s our character that shapes our destiny and outcomes for success. Voila! I was on to something. 

Over time, I kept reading everything I could get my hands on about leadership and human behavior, looking for ways to teach what I was learning. When one day I decided perhaps I should look in the ancient literature on human behavior. I liked the idea that we all have virtues we would like to do better and vices that we’d like to reduce. I’d begun keeping a collection of answers to the question “what traits do you most admire about the best leader you’ve ever known” and “what traits most annoy you in people you work with, especially those in leadership roles?” 

Then one day I landed on the solution I was looking for. I was doing research on periods of human history where people were the most creative. Periods like the Renaissance, the Romanesque, the Enlightenment, and even writings of the early founding fathers of the colonies in the US who came to seek spiritual freedom. What was interesting is that these were for the most part, times of peace, which allowed everyone to focus on something besides survival and war. Exponential creativity flourished during these times and in every case some form of human development occurred that included methods for expanding knowledge about character and virtues. My two favorite sources were Aristotle and Ben Franklin. Aristotle wrote that the most influential thinkers can spread viral change because of their Ethos (character of the whole person). He cited something called The Golden Mean and went on to say that vices are merely overused traits that are really meant to be virtues. He posited that positive virtues are a middle zone between not enough and too much. He said that traits that were overplayed were just people trying too hard to get needs met. Virtues that were perverted into extremes that are so frequent that they become annoying to others. This was the concept I was looking for!  It provided answers for why people do what they do and all I needed to do is continue my research and build a system to increase self-awareness. 

Looking back, that was 26 years ago. The Tilt model and assessments have been researched and built over decades now and I built them mostly for myself, just to satisfy my curiosity and creative outlet. I never dreamed anyone would be interested in what began as my hobby called The Virtues Project for the first 16 years. But here we are and I still feel every bit as passionate about growing character intelligence in the world. 

Am I finished? Not even close. I still have a long list of accomplishments I hope to finish before I leave this world. We’re having fun and believe that character is the answer to solving the complex problems facing our children and grand-children. Somewhere along the way, we decided that it was only parents and religious communities that have responsibility for teaching character in the world. I disagree wholeheartedly. It is indeed the blind spot of our time and there is much work to do. 

I am grateful to those who started Character Day to focus some attention on this important lifelong development responsibility. Every one of us must work at it every day. But if we do there may be a brighter future in front of us. I, for one, want to believe that each generation will grow smarter, faster and more creative than we can imagine. They will leap beyond what we can even imagine and find solutions. 

That positive belief is a result of more than two decades of work on my own character strengths. Am I perfect? No way. But I am agile and can laugh with myself so I recover quickly. And that keeps me fit enough to believe that our future is good. 


Pam Boney, Founder & CEO of tilt365.com