Article by: MaryEllen | Monday, September 5, 2011

By MaryEllen Tribby

My daughter Mikaela was given an assignment for school. She was to write a story about what she would do if she was given a piece of land.

When I came home from the office she asked me if I would read her story to make sure it was okay. I said, “Of course… I’ll do it after dinner.”

After dinner Mikaela asked again if I could read her story. Again, I said I would… But this time, after I put her little sister to bed.

After we all tucked her sister in for the night, Mikaela asked again. But her brother Connor had already asked to do a practice-spelling test. So I told Mikaela, “I’m sure it’s great. Can I look at it in the morning?”

“No problem, Mom,” she replied. Then she kissed me good night and went to bed.

While driving to work the next morning it hit me like a giant tidal wave that I had not looked at Mikaela’s story.

All day I ached inside that I let my oldest child down.

Racing home that evening, all I could think about was how I was going to apologize to Mikaela.

As I parked the car, I dreaded facing my own child. But, she was already running out of the house to meet me, her story in hand. Gleefully, she shouted that she had gotten an “A”.

This time when she asked me to read the story, I stood in my driveway and did so.

By the time I was finished, my eyes had filled with tears. But my heart was filled with love, pride, and a total sense of admiration for the innate kindness this child possessed. (You can read Mikaela’s story here (please hyperlink I did not correct grammar or spelling or change a single word.)

She didn’t hold a single ounce of anger or resentment toward me for failing to read her story. Instead, she wanted to share her joy with me.

This anecdote has stuck with me for three years. I have long wondered why the memory of Mikaela’s forgiving nature and willingness to share her success with me has been so vivid in my memory.

Mikaela’s willingness to let others come first… Her patience… Her ability to forgive… And her willingness to share her triumph with me all point to someone who has deep strength of character.

I’ve returned to that moment again and again throughout my career. And even in business situations, I’ve kept Mikaela’s character in mind.

In fact, I fully believe that your character is a critical factor in your life. (And that extends to the business world, as well!) I would even go so far as to say that character is more important than any skill set you can possess.

Skill sets can be taught, but character is something you’re born with… Something that you must cultivate over years… Something that is part of your core being.

It won’t surprise you to learn that I also believe that the kind of people you surround yourself with is critically important to your success. They can be great marketers or fantastic copywriters or top-notch businesspeople… But if they don’t have strength of character, they don’t have anything to offer you.

A few weeks ago, I met with Michael Masterson. He asked me, “After years of running others people’s companies, what is the best part of owning and running your own company?”

Without a beat I said, “Never having to work with anyone I don’t want to, working only with employees, joint venture partners, or vendors who share the same value system as I do.”

Now as my company has merged with a larger conglomerate and is growing, I am hiring more and more team members to help me achieve my goals for Working Moms Only.  So, I have made a list of the five most important characteristics everyone I hire must possess.

These are the five elements that make up a person of strong character. And I believe these characteristics work together – you must have all five.

Five Characteristics of Successful Employees 

•   Kindness – The quality of being warmhearted, considerate, compassionate , and sympathetic. This means being pleasant and tender and having a genuine concern for others.

•    Honesty – A facet of moral character that denotes positive, virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, and straightforwardness as well as the absence of lying, cheating, or theft.

•    Integrity – When your actions are congruent and consistent with your values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcome.

•    Urgency – Understanding that the task at hand is important and deserves immediate action.

•    Passionate – An intense enthusiasm for or desire to engage in the work at hand.

I can look around at the men and women I am fortunate enough to call my colleagues, team members, and mentors, and 99% of them possess all five of these characteristics. If they don’t, I usually don’t give them my valuable time.

Remember – if you do not respect the person you are working with, their skill set is meaningless.

Now, you can look through hundreds of resumes without getting a good sense of whether a potential employee, partner, or vendor possess these characteristics. That’s why I always recommend giving anyone you may work with the “Human Test.”

Have a brief phone call with a candidate first. Then, bring him or her in for a meet and greet. You can talk about the position and your industry and get a sense of which of the above characteristics your candidate possesses. I also always recommend a trial period – a few weeks or months during which you can see how well you work together and take note of that person’s true character.

Just remember that a strong character is more important than any other quality a potential employee, partner, or vendor can have. If you surround yourself with people who have strength of character – built around the five elements I mentioned above – you will always feel confident that your business is moving in the right direction.