Character is 75% of Life and Leadership (EP.135)

Does Character Count?


Character is 75% of life and leadership. Competence is the other 75%. And no, assessments of life and leadership do not have to add up to 100%. In fact, they rarely should.

Note that I did not ask, “Does character count?”

That’s the subject of today’s 10-minute podcast.


When I was in grade school, we were given citizenship grades as well as academic grades. Citizenship, how you handled yourself in school and dealt with others, was how our teachers communicated their view of our character to our parents, as well as letting them know how we were doing academically

The first time I heard the question about character mattering was when then President Bill Clinton got caught lying to his family, his administration, Congress and the nation about one of his affairs. The answer to the question “Does character count?” when applied to Bill Clinton was answered pretty much long party lines. That was not a huge surprise, but I did give some thought to the question of whether all Democrats thought infidelity and lying were okay, and if all Republicans disagreed. (I will get back to that in a bit.) I was listening to a talk show on that subject when the debate was first raging and a caller likened being the president to being a plumber. His point was that when he hires a plumber, he does care in the slightest about the plumber’s personal life. He just wants a good job at a fair price. In other words, character counts for nothing, only competence counts.

Let’s ask the character question in a way that one of my grade school teachers might have posed it. “Does citizenship count?” If the question back in Clinton’s time was “Does citizenship matter?” my guess is that most people, regardless of political persuasion, would have answered in the affirmative. As they would today. In grade school, citizenship was a good stand-in for character. The teachers did not see us outside of the classroom, so that is what they could judge. And using the word citizenship instead of character made it clear that our behavior affected others, our classmates and teachers, the other citizens of our school. I do not see the two words as interchangeable, but it is clear that citizenship is an important part of character. Anything from running red lights when the law is not present to breaking your oath of office as a public servant are citizenship violations that are also character flaws.

When the “Does character count?” question is applied to President Trump, many of the same people who said “No” when it was asked about Clinton now answer “Yes” and vice versa. Trump has his own series of very Clinton-like affairs, with attendant lies about those dalliances with females as marginal as the ones who were in Clinton’s life. And you can throw in the many non-sexual scandals that Clinton, Obama and Trump have been credibly accused of. Yes, only the one party accuses the president of the other party of having been involved in scandals. Both parties are right about all three presidents, but almost to a person, members of each party defend their president, and accuse the other. “Obama was scandal free for 8 years.” “Trump isn’t perfect, but he is way better than those Democrats.” Have societal mores changed, or are we allowing our moral positions to be dictated by our politics?

Morals, as guided by a moral compass, should drive our lives, including our politics. We are running the equation backwards when we allow our politics to shape our moral stances. And we cannot realistically expect to have our elected officials to have higher and better morals than we do as voters. Remember, if we want better candidates and better office holders, we need to be better voters.

We are now, correctly, holding sport stars accountable for their actions away from the playing fields, and punish actors, business people and others for current and past transgressions, particularly those of a sexual nature. And we are holding them accountable separate from their competence in their chosen professions. Priests, no matter how many people they may have helped in their parrishes, are being held accountable for pedophilia.

Gone are the days when the media conspired to hide John Kennedy’s serial adultery or Franklin Roosevelt’s crippling polio along with his serial adultery. We need to look at the whole person, warts and all, in order to make informed decisions as citizens and voters.

So, Will, with your 75%/75% arithmetic, how does one balance character and competence? How does one come to a decision as a voter? Good question; here’s the answer. In the same way that we all have to deal with competence and character in our own lives. In our lives as family members; parents, spouses and siblings. In our professional lives as employers or employees. In our social lives as friends and simply as an occasional presence in other people’s lives. For example, we all know that as parents and employers, character is enormously important.

Let’s get back to the plumber and the assertion that only competence mattered, and that the plumber’s personal life was irrelevant in this situation. Consider this. If the plumber cheats on his wife and lies to people about it, what’s to stop him from cheating you? Aren’t you less important than she is? Are you sure that garbage disposal was new, and not refurbished? Can you count on the warranty he promised? If a plumber or president will treat the people who are closest to them dishonestly, how can we be sure they will deal with us honestly?

Today’s Key Point: Character matters. And it matters as much as competence. And the more senior the position, e.g., parents, employers and presidents, it matters all the more. Character is more than half of the game. As is competence. We must remember that in our day-to-tay, minute-to-minute lives, as well as when we vote.

Segueing from the specifics of today’s topic to overall principles, the core, driving principles at Revolution 2.0, are:

  1. Personal Responsibility; take it, teach it and,
  2. Be Your Brother’s Keeper. The answer to the biblical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is a ringing, unequivocal “Yes.” There is no other answer.

And do it all in love; without love, these are empty gestures, destined to go nowhere and mean nothing.

If we apply those two core principles, personal responsibility and brother’s keepers, simultaneously, never only one or the other, we will always be on the right path. Depending upon what we face, one principle or the other may appropriately be given more emphasis, but they are always acted upon together.

The Founders, Revolution 1.0, were declared traitors by the British Crown, and their lives were forfeit if caught. We risk very little by stepping up and participating in Revolution 2.0™. In fact, we risk our futures if we don’t. I am inviting you, recruiting you, to join Revolution 2.0™ today. Join with me in using what we know how to do–what we know we must do–to everyone’s advantage. Let’s practice thinking well of others as we seek common goals, research the facts that apply to those goals, and use non agenda-based reasoning to achieve those goals together. Practice personal responsibility and be your brother’s keeper.

Let’s continue to build on the revolutionary vision that we inherited. Read the blog, listen to the podcast, subscribe, recruit, act. Here’s what I mean by “acting.”

  • Read the blogs and/or listen to the podcasts.
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  • From time-to-time, attach links to blogs in emails that mention related subjects. Or just send the links to family and friends.

Revolution 1.0 in 1776 was built by people talking to other people, agreeing and disagreeing, but always finding ways to stay united and go forward. Revolution 2.0 will be built the same way.

Join me. Join the others. Think about what we are talking about and share these thoughts and principles with others. Subscribe, encourage others to subscribe. Act. Let’s grow this together.

And visit the store. Fun stuff, including hats, mugs and t-shirts. Recommend other items that you’d like to see.

Links and References

Zero Sum Game (EP. 15)

Moral Compass (EP. 12)

America’s Unqualified Voters (EP. 89)


As we get ready to wrap up, please do respond in the blog with comments or questions about this podcast or anything that comes to mind, or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And you can subscribe to the podcast on your favorite device through Apple Podcasts, Google, or Stitcher.

Now it is time for our usual parting thought. It is not enough to be informed. It is not enough to be a well informed voter. We need to act. And if we, you and I, don’t do something, then the others who are doing something, will continue to run the show.

Know your stuff, then act on it. Knowing your stuff without acting is empty; acting without knowing is dangerous.

Will Luden, writing to you from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.


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2 Responses

  1. Charles Cabral Reply

    Regarding the Clinton comparison, when you select a president, it is not the same as hiring a plumber or other craftsman. Frankly, other than maybe checking Yelp or asking a friend for a recommendation, I don’t have time to dig into the character of a tree trimmer, plumber or other one-time hire. The real analogy is of an owner (citizen) hiring a manager. If you find out the manager is getting “fringe benefits” on the job, you probably fire him in order to save the company, as I thought should have happened to Clinton. Credit the twit-in-chief that those sorts of dalliances , in office, have not become an issue, in spite of his other obvious character flaws. Let’s face it, the Dems don’t want to depose him, since he provides their only real campaign issue.
    One of the problems in our current form of government is that the same person is both head of state and head of the government. Most other democracies have a head of government, such as a monarch or president, who keeps order, stays somewhat above the political fray and provides a stable personification of the nation, while a premier or prime minister gets down and dirty with the business of running things. I would be far less uncomfortable with the current Twit, if there were a sensible counterweight (pick an name, any name) that we could point to and say, “No, that’s what we’re really like”.

    • Will Luden Reply

      So, Charlie, do you want us to switch to a parliamentary system, with a constitutional monarchy? (I am up for anything that might work better…:) ). Cheers, Will

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