The root of the word characteristic is “character,” and isn’t that what we are really talking about here? Kindness and good character go hand-in-hand. When you have good character, you possess the characteristics of kindness that let people know you are caring, responsible, trustworthy, respectful, fair, and a good citizen. And just as there are returns on investment in business, there are returns on character—high returns.
Fred Kiel, founder of KRL International, based most of his career demonstrating that zeroing in on the kindness characteristics that make up the core of our humanity is what produces life-affirming inner change, which in turn leads to in- creased “virtuosity and true excellence as a leader.”8
In his book Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win, based on his seven-year research study of the same name, Kiel shares the story of resigning as CEO of a large company and launching a new solo practice with the vision of using his energy, talents, and skills to help leaders of large business organizations “connect their heads to their hearts.”9
“Our research returned an observable and consistent relationship between character-driven leaders and better business results,” writes Kiel. “Leaders with stronger morals and principles do, in fact, deliver a Return on Character, or ROC. Organizational leadership that ranks high on the ROC character-assessment scale achieves nearly five times the re- turn on assets that leaders who fall at the bottom of the curve achieve.”10
And what’s more encouraging is that even if you haven’t been operating from the perspective of a “heart-driven” or “character-driven” business owner, we all have the capability to learn and create new habits based on these humanistic qualities. As Kiel says, “…people demonstrate character through habitual behaviors. Therefore, they can develop the habits of strong character and ‘unlearn’ the habits of poor character. Further, by doing so, they can improve their results—in both business and personal outcomes.”
It was in Return on Character where I was introduced to the work of anthropologist and author Donald Brown, who has identified nearly 500 behaviors and characteristics that all human societies recognize and use. Kiel drew from this list when he and his research team chose the four universal moral principles of integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion that comprised his framework of character. These principles were present in a large range of common human behaviors and traits, including:
- Telling right from wrong (integrity).
- Communication used to misinform or mislead (lack of integrity).
- Undoing of wrongs (responsibility).
- Self-control (responsibility).
- Cooperation (forgiveness).
- Resolution of conflict (forgiveness).
- Empathy (compassion). K Attachment (compassion).
- Affection (compassion)
Those corporate leaders who demonstrated more of these attributes were scored by their employees as “Virtuoso CEOs,” while those who performed low on the character scale were labeled “Self-focused CEOs.”
Virtuoso CEOs were described as those putting the success and welfare of people ahead of their own while the Self- focused CEOs were characterized as placing their own welfare and success at the top of their list of concerns. Employees can’t help but take note of this, just as Joan recognized when her publisher Jack acted with a high amount of character during the business trip that almost wasn’t.