Follow Your Conscience
One of the most surprising benefits of blogging and jumping into social media has been the number of people I have met online. Had I not started, I likely would not have had the opportunity to meet Frank Sonnenberg. Frank is a blogger and an author. His latest book, Follow Your Conscience: Make a Difference in Your Life & in the Lives of Others, is a book of principles, character and trust.
We recently had the opportunity to talk about his work on leadership, character, trust and following your conscience.
You start your book by saying, “Character matters.” It’s hard to believe anyone would disagree. Do you think they do? Why is character more important than ever?
You’re right, Skip. Everyone would agree that character matters. But then ask the same folks if good people, or good companies, finish first. I’ll bet many of them believe it’s nice to possess strong moral character, but you have to be ruthless to get ahead. They’d probably acknowledge, however, that “looking the part” yields rewards. To them, moral character is a sideshow, not part of the main act. The truth is, strong moral character builds trust, strengthens respect, promotes loyalty, and translates to rock-solid reputations. Most importantly, every day you exhibit weak character, you’re letting yourself down. Remember, you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life.
What’s the best way to build character?
Great question. As I say in Follow Your Conscience, “It’s not always easy to admit a mistake, persevere during tough times, or follow through on every promise made. It’s not always comfortable to convey the hard truth or stand up for your beliefs. In the short term, it may not be beneficial to do right by your customers, to put people before profits, or to distance yourself from a questionable relationship. BUT, in the long run, doing the right thing is the clear path to both success and happiness.” The bottom line is, listen to your conscience. That’s why you have one.
4 Stages of Trust
Everything is built on trust. Would you walk through the four stages of trust?
1. Relationship. The first stage of trust represents the beginning of a relationship. We generally start off with some preconceived notion about others. This is where a person’s or a company’s reputation comes into play.
2. Core Values. The second stage represents core values that lead to trusting relationships. Some examples are integrity, fairness, reliability, strength of conviction, and openness. When these actions are repeated time and time again, the relationship is strengthened and graduates to the next phase.
3. Consistency. The third stage, consistency, enables us to anticipate probable behavior and actions. It provides a certain degree of comfort that helps us to maintain the relationship even through difficult times.
4. Faith. The fourth stage is faith. This is the stage at which actions are so predictable that we don’t consciously have to think about the relationship. At this phase, trust has become so integral a part of the relationship that we expect it to work. It is at this stage that people allow themselves to become entirely vulnerable to others.
How is trust sustained?
Trust –– or the lack of it — is inherent in every action that we take and affects everything that we do. It must be carefully constructed, vigorously nurtured, and constantly reinforced. Trust is never guaranteed, and it can’t be won overnight. It is established over time, gradually, through a long chain of successful experiences. In the early stages of relationships, whether personal or business, we extend ourselves in small ways and observe the responses to our actions. Then we take appropriate action, withdrawing, maintaining our behavior, or extending ourselves a bit further each time until trust is established. The truth is, trust takes a long time to develop but can be lost in the blink of an eye. Once lost, it is very difficult to re-establish.
Defending Your Reputation
Let’s talk about reputation. In an era of personal branding, it’s vitally important. How do you build and defend your reputation?
Your reputation is like a shadow, following you wherever you go. You can’t disguise it, you can’t hide from it, and you certainly can’t run from it. Over time, the cumulative observations of your words and actions form the basis of your reputation. Some of the things you can do to enhance your reputation include operating with integrity at all times, maintaining the strength of your ideas and principles, taking pride in what you do, accepting responsibility for your actions, thinking before you act, being an exemplary role model, and letting your conscience be your guide. The bottom line is living your life with honor and integrity rather than spending your time marketing yourself.
You say your character matters when no one is looking. Today it seems there is always someone looking. How has reputation building changed in an era of video, mobile, and social?
Our world may have changed, but the importance of integrity has not. In years past, reputations were built and destroyed by the grapevine. Today, social media holds the power to share your words and actions with the world –– in seconds. This makes it increasingly important to be conscious of your actions. Create some bad news and you’ll learn for yourself.
Follow Your Conscience: Make a Difference in Your Life & in the Lives of Others