The Path To Character

by  Thomas Waterhouse  |  Self Leadership

Character grows upon the foundation of absorbing attitudes. It derives from internalizing precepts. Character forms when it exists under healthy authority, the authority of someone, or some ideology. For character to grow, it must remain in this state of willing subjection to its chosen higher power.

As adults, we are mindful, resistant, or mindless of this crucial dynamic. If we are mindful, then we choose appropriate authority and subject ourselves to it. If we are resistant, then we evolve by reaction, choosing the authority that we will stand against. If we are mindless, then we passively absorb the attitudes and precepts of our culture. Either way, a character forms.

Willing subjection says, “I am less, you are more, and I will follow”. It says, “Yes” without question. And here is the twist. As we are properly under authority, we gain authority. There is no other graceful path to constructive empowerment. As we are in a state of chosen subjection, gracefully under authority and internalizing its precepts, something magical happens.

As we come under authority, our character grows. We become empowered, and one day we notice our promotion. We begin to see that we have followers. We realize that others are entrusting themselves to our care, coming under our authority and often, we don’t even see it coming. This journey of coming under authority, and then having authority, is an organic process that yields incredible life for all who embrace it.

Authority, subjection, obedience, and internalizing precepts are not popular ideas in modern times, but the facts remain. They are the vehicles by which we grow healthy and strong in character. People of healthy character have principled power, and therefore they wield positive and proactive influence. Absent the authority principle, we act out relationally void or relationally destructive power with those around us.

To see what I mean, look around at the leaders of our generation. You will easily see their chosen relationship with authority. Some are mindless “chameleons of culture”, subtly corrosive of the best within us. Others are resistant and they create division everywhere they turn. Fortunately, some are mindful, always embracing a higher path, and they the ones who win our hearts and minds.

I’m under authority. Not perfectly by any means, but I am. It keeps me growing and deepening in character. And I’m pleased to see evidence of my subjection, obedience, and internalized precepts. I’m a leader, I have followers, I have positive influence, and I never once sought for this to happen. This is just the way that it rolls. There’s a continuum of relating with authority ranging from “mindless” to “mindfully resisting” to “mindfully embracing”, and we have a choice of where to place ourselves upon that line.

What is character to you? How do you think it develops in adults? Have my thoughts stirred a reaction? Are you “under authority”? If so, then who, or what ideology are you in subjection to? I hope you will weigh in on these matters. Your answers are crucial to the growth of the Lead Change community.

The Path to Character – Copyright © 2011 Thomas Waterhouse. All rights reserved.

Photo iStockPhoto © glenn maas

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What People Are Saying

Phil Eastman  |  05 Feb 2011  |  Reply

I am not sure would agree totally about the the submission to authority as a necessary ingredient to character but I would say that for character to develop the leader should have a clear idea of what they believe and make a commitment to demonstrate those beliefs in action. One of those core beliefs could certainly be in a higher power.

Thomas Waterhouse  |  05 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Phil. I will quote one of your phrases and insert comments in brackets, providing clarification. “For character to develop the leader should have a clear idea of what they believe [this is ideology or a person with an ideology] and make a commitment to demonstrate those beliefs in action [this is coming under the authority of the ideology].” This is what I mean by “willing subjection to a chosen higher power.” I used “higher power” in lower case so that it could embrace ideology or faith that is secular in nature. If I’m hearing you correctly in your video you say, in effect, that faith is unwavering belief in something we can’t prove and the nature of the outsourcing of things like love, courage, or justice derives from that place. In my thesis, “Coming under authority” is our willingness to organize our energy around, and act harmoniously with, our higher power, or our Higher Power. The essence of healthy authority (“us” to “it” on a vertical plane) is that it gains expression through willing subjects acting it out on the horizontal plane. To me, this is the essence of “character-based (‘mindfully embracing’) leadership”. I like what I saw and heard in a quick visit to your website, Phil, and I will spend some time there as I am able. Thank you so much for adding to the discussion.

Shawn Murphy  |  07 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Your post has tweaked my mind – in a good way. After letting the words and meaning simmer a bit in my mind, the compelling message for me is this: the path to character is a choice, but the outcome subtly evolves over time. Character is a product of our choices cumulatively building throughout our lifetime. You’ve shared with us a thought provoking post. I do hope more come to visit and respond to it.


Thomas Waterhouse  |  07 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Hi Shawn! Yes, character growth is developmental, and I believe that we are either in a state of evolution, or atrophy. To be “mindfully embracing” of a higher or Higher power is the ultimate choice in our formation as leaders. You have discerned and given voice to an important slice of the thesis by saying, “The path to character is a choice, but the outcome subtly evolves over time.” I appreciate your addition to the discussion, and I like your thought, “Character is a product of our choices cumulatively building throughout our lifetime.” Thank you, Shawn.

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