According to one of his nephews, Billy Graham was the same in public as he was in private. The famous evangelist and preacher, who died this week at age 99, had a strength of character that did not change when he was in the spotlight or at home in North Carolina.
Deryl Graham, his nephew, told USA Today that Graham did not compromise.
“People who saw him on TV or during one of his crusades might think there’s no way he could be that good and straightforward in real life,” Graham told USA Today in the report. “But he was. He was meek, and he was honest, and he was pure.”
That same lesson is invaluable for anyone in business.
I’ve always said that character is an ability to act the same in every situation. We all know chameleons who change like the wind, acting noble and honest at work where those might be important characteristics, but then letting our guard down after hours.
Graham knew that his life was always under inspection. At the grocery store. At home. Driving in traffic when the only other human being around is the state trooper hidden behind a row of trees.
Why does it even matter so much?
For most of us, character is important because of how it builds confidence. If we change to suit a given situation, it makes us feel weak and small. If we maintain the same attributes of honesty, morality, and conviction, we stay true to our own internal compass, rather than letting it veer off course. Character is important because it determines how we see the world, not just how the world sees us. It’s like a fuel that drives us into all areas of life; without that fuel, we sputter and spin out of control.
Character is also a major factor in building trust.
In business, you learn quickly that the companies that tend to stick around are those that maintain integrity and honor with customers. Insert your own story here about an experience at a restaurant or coffee-shop where the clerk seemed to suspect you were being sneaky or didn’t show you enough respect. And, insert your own story here about those precious few times when a clerk showed you respect and trusted you. I remember this happening on a business trip when a clerk at an airport trusted me to go and grab my wallet…from the plane where I left one of my bags.
Loyalty comes from a place of character in business. We trust a business that demonstrates character and honor in all areas of their service and support. And the ones that don’t do that? We never have them repair our furnace or fix a sink ever again.
Are there times when you won’t quite live up to the “always the same” choices in life? Sure. I’m guessing even Billy Graham was not perfect. Yet, it’s so much that we will ever attain any level of perfection but that we should always check our motives and actions, weighing them constantly, and then striving to stay consistent as much as we can.
That’s what character really means.