Character and Core Values

Is General Schwarzkopf referring only to military strategy? No! The General’s comment refers to anyone and any strategy. Without a strong set of core values, one’s plan of action will be unrestrained, never a thought any value system. Recent history is replete with examples of actions and behaviors toward material rewards without a serious thought of any moral and ethical standard.

But, is it always only about morals and ethics. Leadership authors and professionals tell us that Core Values encompasses several other leadership traits and behaviors.

Maybe it is time for a review of Core Values, its origin, principles and ideals. So what are Core Values, and what is the make-up of these personal guidelines? Why do leaders exhibit amoral and immoral behaviors, knowing of the high moral standards of society?

The derivative ideal of morals and ethics is the Natural Law, which as Aristotle points out in his Nicomachean Ethics[i] centers on the ideal of “doing good.” Doing good is also related to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The philosophy of human affairs center around the idea of happiness. The virtue of happiness goes well beyond the feelings and pleasure of the moment. Ultimately the intrinsic reward of happiness is found in the excellence of human moral principles and ethical behaviors. In other words, the very base of who we are and of what is our make-up.

Character is defined as the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual. Human rectitude is defined by Natural Law moral and ethical principles, which is also encompassed with several other core values defined by Aristotle as the Eleven Moral Virtues. Character Counts outlines Six Pillars of Character as the core ethical values. These traits are behavioral expectations of all people. A short review of these concepts is at times necessary to remind us of our base behavior toward mankind.

The base of Core Values – morality – is defined as the most important code of conduct put forward by a society and accepted by the member of that society.[ii] Morals are the principles and guidelines by which we follow to restrain our Ethical behaviors. Morals refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.

Ethics is defined as the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation; the principles of conduct governing an individual or group.[iii] Ethics are the practices we exhibit in our daily conduct of doing good, doing what is right, and the rectitude described in our moral standards.

Several organizations and writers have described several attributes or practices under the title of core values evolving from Aristotle’s moral virtues. Character Counts lists Six Pillars of Character[iv] as their core values. Basic definitions are provided my Merriam-Webster.

Trustworthiness. Worthiness as a recipient of another’s trust or confidence. Dependability, reliability, infallibility, or creditability. Think “true blue”. Be honest. Don’t deceive, cheat or steal. Do what you say you will do. Have the mental, physical and moral courage to do the right thing. Build a good reputation. Be loyal – stand by your family, friends, and country.

Respect. A relation or reference to a particular thing or situation; act of giving particular attention; consideration; high regard; esteem; quality or state of being esteemed. Every individual deserves a certain level of respect based on their very existence. How high or low that level of respect is determined by their individual behavior, performance or achievements – i.e. earned respect.  Follow the Golden Rule. Be tolerant and accepting of differences. Use good manners, not bad language. Be considerate of all feelings of others. Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone. Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements.

Responsibility. The quality or state of being responsible: such as moral, legal, or mental accountability. Reliability, trustworthiness. Burden. Do what you are supposed to do. Plan ahead. Be diligent – practice due diligence. Persevere. Do your best. Use self-control. Be self-disciplined. Think before you act. Be accountable for your words, actions and attitudes. Set a good example for others.

Fairness. The qualities in a person or thing that as a whole give pleasure to the senses. Play by the rules. Take turns and share. Be open-minded; listen to others. Don’t take advantage of others. Don’t blame others carelessly. Treat all people fairly. In a recent study by Robert Half Management Resources on the most important leadership attribute, Integrity and fairness were rated 1 and 2.[v]

Caring. Feeling or showing concern for or kindness to others. Be kind. Be compassionate and show you care. Express gratitude, forgive others. Help people in need. Be charitable and altruistic. As the saying goes, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Citizenship. State of being a citizen. Membership in a community (state, city, organization). The quality of an individual’s response to membership in a community. Do your share to make your community better. Cooperate. Get involved in community (organizational) affairs. Stay informed. Be a good neighbor. Obey laws and rules. Respect authority. Protect the environment. Volunteer.

Core values are basic to existence in society. As stated there are other traits, such as learning that is integrated with personal development. Moderation is another, don’t over-indulge. Justice, which includes not only the legal attributes of the law, but also the fair and just treatment of others.

Core Values define “who we are” as individuals. These are the basic attributes, traits and behaviors we are to follow in our individual lives; not just at home, but twenty-four, seven, 365 days a year in every aspect of our interactions with other in private, public, business, religion, and personal leadership.

I ask you, “Who are You? What is the base ideal of your daily leadership and practice in building relationships with other?”


[i] Bartlett, Robert and Collins, Susan. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The University of Chicago Press, 2012.

[ii] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy at

[iii] Merriam-Webster Dictionary at

[iv] Character Counts at

[v] Forbes online at, October 25, 2016.


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