Private Tests Of A Leader’s Character

“No one is going to get hurt.”

In a nutshell:  “Your character is who you are when no one is watching.” We can all justify our choices by saying others won’t get hurt.  But we all know there can be collateral damage to others when a leader makes a poor, private choice.

However, I want to focus on the character implications of these private battles we face. The definition of character I use is:  Character is our habitual way of operating.  In other words, HOW I AM IS WHO I AM.

Private Tests Of Character

Therefore, WHO I AM is formed with or without witnesses.  WHO I AM is formed through both my public and my private habits.

Private Temptations:

  • Do I spend time on Facebook during work hours?
  • Do I watch this movie alone in my hotel room?
  • Do I stop by the mall when I am supposed to be seeing customers?

When I choose to cheat my company by scanning Facebook or any non-business related site during work hours, it is a private decision.  When I watch an X rated movie alone in my hotel room, no one will know.  If I stop by the mall to get a gift for my wife, it is a family matter.

To read more about how we form Habits of Character click on the blog title below:

Your Choices Make You or Break You

You may be like me.  When I WANT to do something, I can find all sorts of ways to justify why I should or shouldn’t do it.  The saddest excuse I use is, “No one is going to get hurt.” When I get into that mode of thinking, I am probably at my most selfish and short sighted.  That one decision may not be significant in and of itself.  But, what it does to my character is huge.

A test is a test – whether it is in public or private.

It does not matter if I believe no one will get hurt.  It does not matter if my choice is a private choice that “is nobody’s business”.  What does matter is that every choice I make is forming a habit.

The particular decision in question may not ever be exposed to the light of scrutiny, but it will effect future decisions I make.  All of my decisions, no matter what type of exposure they get, play a part in forming my character.

The Bottom Line:

The best way develop into a Leader of Character is to begin by choosing to do the right thing.  With each choice I make, I am forming a habit.  My choice today influences whether that habit is positive or negative as I move forward.

The number of witnesses does not determine the importance of a decision in regard to its impact on my character. I can justify a lot of my bad private habits with the statement, “No one is going to get hurt.”  The private nature of that one decision is not the point.  The likelihood of that decision impacting others is not the point.

The point is, what is that choice doing to my character?  My character does impact others.  My character is the #1 factor in determining my ability to lead at work or at home.

Our private tests of character may do more to form our character than any test we encounter.  I can’t let the presence of witnesses determine my actions.

I am my witness, and God is my witness.

We are the only two people who truly know what my character is.

P.S.  Habits of Character: Courage, Humility, Integrity, Selflessness, Duty and Positivity will be the subject of leadership book my father, General Jim Anderson, and I will be publishing later in 2016. Stay tuned for more updates.


What private tests of your character will you encounter this week?

8 Responses to “Private Tests Of A Leader’s Character”

  1. Tom von Kaenel August 16, 2012 at 4:47 am #

    Wow! What a thought provoking article & timely as I’m going through personal challenges at present (like most of us). It all comes down to one’s character & integrity. I like Covey’s definition of integrity as ‘living by the same set of principles in the totality of your life.’

    And character & integrity are only a couple of principles mentioned. The examination of these and others like courage, humility, compassion, excellence, industry, etc, are sadly lacking in today’s society, but this is a great start to re-engage and renew in what West Point attempted to instil in us when we first took the oath.

    Thanks so much Dave, for highlighting this, I’ll be visiting your website often in the future.

    Best wishes,


  2. Dave Anderson August 16, 2012 at 7:13 am #


    Below is another blog I wrote about West Point’s approach to character education. There are more on the site as well.

    Thanks for the encouragement and please share this site with others!

  3. Dan Negron January 5, 2016 at 2:13 pm #


    Powerful stuff.

    My father-in-law had the following saying. “What you are is God’s gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God.” I think of this, and him, often. It ties in nicely with your words.

    I look forward to reading your book!

    Beat Navy!

    Dan Negron, USMA ’88

    • Dave Anderson January 6, 2016 at 5:48 am #

      I love that saying. Simple truths are always the most powerful ones.

  4. Bruce Donnelly January 5, 2016 at 2:22 pm #

    Dave, I believe anyone with a true conviction would understand this path! True character is what we are, not what we appear to be!

    • Dave Anderson January 6, 2016 at 5:49 am #

      Too many of us depend on reputation to define who we are when in fact it who we are is based on our character – especially in those private tests.

  5. Dan York January 8, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

    Great Article Dave–thanks for sharing information that is powerful for reflection and application.

    • Dave Anderson January 10, 2016 at 8:42 am #

      It applies to all of us. Me included. We are all tempeted in the private moments to make poor choices and sacrifice our character.

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