Private Tests Of A Leader’s Character

Private Tests = “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 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 using time they paid for to scan Facebook, 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. 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 for my character is huge. A test is a test.  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.

To Smoke or Not To Smoke

In my life, any time my values are tested, the choice I make will cause me to lean towards that same choice in the future.  A few people reading this right now may think I am being extreme.  But, this is how people become smokers. The first cigarette is a single decision.  So is the second one.  But with each cigarette I have, it makes it easier to say “yes” to the next one. Choosing to have a single cigarette does not make me a smoker.  Choosing to smoke a cigarette consistently, over time forms a habit.  That makes me a smoker. So what does that do for the choices I make on my computer, in the hotel room or when driving by the mall during work hours? If I choose to stay away from Facebook, turn off the TV, or drive past the mall, it will be easier to do it the next time I am tempted.  The best way to not be a smoker is to not smoke a cigarette!

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. The number of witnesses does not determine the importance of a decision in regard to its impact on my character.  In fact, it may be inversely proportional.  The fewer witnesses I have may make the decision I make today more important than the decisions that are made with people watching.  I can justify a lot of my bad 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.

No one may get hurt by the individual choice I make today.  But, my lack of character can hurt a lot of people in the future.


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

2 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!

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