Character And Business Success

In a previous post, I wrote that qualities of character in the CEO were a more important indicator of business success than the business model. Two questions popped up following that statement:

  1. Why do you say that?
  2. Which qualities of character are most important to business success?

In this post, I’m going to respond to the first question.  I’ll use the second question to shape a series of posts.

First, a disclaimer.

This is one person’s point of view.  This is not the result of some study that surveyed 10,000 business owners.  Instead, it is the result of my personal, anecdotal experience.  I’ve spoken to and with thousands of business executives, in the US and ten other countries, and personally and contractually worked with over 400 of them.  I have, I believe, achieved a breath of experience in the world of business that, coupled with a touch of wisdom, has a validity of its own.

With that disclaimer behind us, let’s tackle the subject.


First, for those of you who may never have thought this way, let’s create a common definition of ‘character’ and ‘qualities of character’ as they relate to the world of business.

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘character’ as: “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.”  Simply put, it’s the way that we generally act. So, we can be known as industrious for example, or lazy. These two words: ‘industrious,” and “lazy” describe certain traits or qualities of our character.  We can be counted on to act in harmony with those qualities.  If we are known as industrious or lazy, it’s because we have acted that way, repeatedly.  Now, those who know us expect us to act that way. Character ultimately expresses itself through our actions.

Our character, then, is the combination of all the qualities, or traits, that we have developed over time.  The individual traits are what we call ‘qualities of character’, while the composite of all those individual traits is what we call our character.

Notice a couple of things here.

First, our qualities of character are both reflections on what we have done in the past as well as predictors of our future behavior.  In other words, qualities of character are habits.  The reason people think we are lazy is because we have acted that way in the past, and now those around can predict that we will act that way in the future.  Laziness is a habit.  Typically, it is a habit which has so ingrained itself into our routines that we don’t even think about it.  We just act that way mindlessly..

Second, since our qualities of character are habits of action, they, more than anything else, determine our path in life, and our success or lack of it in business. It is a rule of how the universe works that actions create reactions.  We jump into a pool of water, and we create waves.  Action/reaction.  We are polite to another person, and he/she thinks more highly of us.  Action/reaction.  We lie to a customer and he/she stops doing business with us.  Action/reaction.  On and on it goes.  Our actions cause reactions.

Character and results

Since character traits are habits of actions, they generally produce the same reactions, over and over again, in every situation we find ourselves, for the course of our lives.

I’ve seen this, over and over in all kinds of situations, too many times to doubt it.

In my career as a sales authority, I’ve interviewed literally hundreds of prospective sales people on behalf of my clients. Over time, I’ve learned that unsuccessful people will probably be unsuccessful in the future, no matter what changes in their circumstances. Successful people will likely continue to be successful, no matter what the external circumstances. Hire an unsuccessful person for a sales territory, and he/she will find a way to be unsuccessful.  Hire a successful person for the same territory, and the results will likely be outstanding. Action/reaction.

The difference is the character of the person.

We are all familiar with the common story of the person who wins big in the lottery. Their external circumstances change big time.  However, the most likely scenario is four or five years later, they are bankrupt and have lost their marriages and often their families.  Why?  They did not have the character it took to deal with a sudden expansion of their wealth.

I have seen this in people groups as well as individuals. Some people groups are known for their positive character traits – industrious, hard-working, self-motivated.  They continually rise up, regardless of the circumstances, and become successful.  Others have the opposite character traits – they blame others for their circumstances, and are given to self-indulgence, substance abuse and promiscuity.  Their results are in sync with their character.  Action/reaction.

On an even larger scale, entire nations develop trajectories based on the character of their inhabitants.  As our country slides toward socialism, for example, that inevitably impacts the quality of the citizens’ character.  As the government extends its power over more and more of its citizen’s lives, those citizens eventually lose their sense of personal responsibility. The qualities of character that contributed to the US’s ascendency are gradually eroding, and are being replaced by dependency and entitlement. Inevitably, that decline in the county’s character will lead to a decline in our influence and prosperity.   Action/reaction.

Character traits develop.

We are all born with tendencies toward certain habits.  At some point, however, we make a choice – a decision based on free will – to do or not do something, to think or not think a certain way.  That choice leads to an action.  Later, in another set of circumstances, we make a similar choice.  Actions repeated turn into habits.  Habits are another name for character traits.

So, our character traits develop over time as the result of individual choices we make to think or act in certain ways.  It works like this:  Our thoughts lead to our actions.  Our actions, repeated, turn into habits.  Habits harden into character traits.  Character determines our destiny.

Since we can choose our thoughts, we can choose our qualities of character, and we can choose our destiny.  One of the fundamental steps in that process is to first describe those traits that we want to develop. Over the next series of posts, I’ll be describing those character traits that I have come to learn have a positive impact on business success.


Dave Kahle
Dave Kahle
YOUR business can be much more than just a money-making enterprise. Helping you achieve that potential is Dave Kahle’s passion. He has been helping business grow for 30 years. The author of The Good Book on Business, he’s written 12 other books, which have been published in eight languages and distributed around the world, and has presented in 47 states and 11 countries. He has personally and contractually worked with over 459 companies, and touched thousands of others through his seminars, speaking engagements, and webinars. You’ll find him challenging your paradigms and prompting you to think more deeply.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


  1. Given that it is essential to build a mechanism that functions independently of the leaders, because a lasting and successful mechanism does not depend on one person charisma, there is no doubt that character and behavior are the most important assets in the leadership. Recently also the Harvard Business Review, in an article entitled “Measuring the Return on Character”, in turn taken from a study of KRW International, the American Society of advice for the leadership, raised the question about what is the value of ” good attitudes “of a CEO acknowledged virtuous by his staff, compared to one purely self-referential. It’s a clear invitation to reflect on the “economic” value of the character in the exercise of leadership.
    The character is a quality of the person that says a lot about its values, the way in which it might act in certain circumstances and how it might drive other people, when it is put in a position of power. The character has a close relationship with integrity. If the character is “who we are”, integrity is “what we do.” The integrity connotes a deep commitment to doing the right thing for the right reason, regardless of the circumstances. The respect of which must enjoy leadership requires that the ethics of an individual is indisputable. So, character is what can make the difference between one who merely know the rules of the leadership and the one who knows to put them into practice in everyday life. It encloses the personal qualities that give strength and vigor to the actions of a person. Appearing confident and determined does not equal to dominate and impose itself on others, on the contrary implies show serenely firm in what one believes, but at the same time available to listen to any advice and suggestions and willing to change his mind if needed.

  2. I feel that people need to understand you so they can trust and respect you. If you’re consistent in what you talk about, how you make decisions, and how you treat others… you’re half way there. The rest comes with you increasing others comfort to engage with you, take risks, and take initiative.