Character as Job Qualification

Legend has it that Theodore Roosevelt and one of his cowhands found an unbranded steer on land controlled by Gregor Lang, a neighboring rancher.

In accord with the usual custom, they prepared to brand it, but as the cowboy applied the brand, Roosevelt said, “Wait, it should be Lang’s brand.”

“That’s all right, boss,” said the cowboy.

“But you’re putting on my brand,” Roosevelt said.

“That’s right,” the cowboy said, “I always put on the boss’s brand.”

“Drop that iron,” Roosevelt commanded, “and get back to the ranch and get out. I don’t need you anymore. A man who will steal for me will steal from me.”

Roosevelt understood that a person’s moral conviction must rest on something firmer than the presence or absence of particular people. Do what is right, no matter who might benefit or who might be watching.

— H. Hagedorn, Roosevelt in the Badlands, Theodore Roosevelt Nature & History Association (August, 2000), cited on CharacterFirst.

Why do we hire for skills, but fire for character¹? Why do some people succeed and others fail?

The difference that makes a lasting difference is character. It is not heredity, not circumstances, not ability or disability, not favoritism or discrimination, not environment, not luck or chance. It’s none of these. Rather, those who overcome obstacles are the people who succeed.

Are people born with the drive to overcome? Or can it be taught? Yes. And yes. Anyone who has children knows that babies are born with certain tendencies or character traits. Yet, it is also true that people learn to be who they become. Most of this learning takes place in the family. Those who learn to love growth and maturity at an early age will continue to grow and mature throughout life. They are easily recognizable, and they are teachable. Conversely, those who do not love growth and maturity are not teachable, and they, too, are easily recognizable.

Federal & State laws prevent discrimination in employment based upon age, sex, race, color, religious creed, national origin, marital status, or handicap, unless based upon a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ). However, both character and skills discrimination are essential to successful hiring and placement. In fact, because character is responsible for skill development, character is more important than skills.

Character, as we are defining it, pertains to the pursuit of virtue — moral improvement, integrity and truth. Yet, the foundation of virtue is the humility that results from an honest assessment of one’s skills, abilities, values and worth. The reason that we pursue virtue is because we don’t have it. And the truth is that we cannot attain it in and of ourselves. It’s only availability is through Christ.

Whether character produces purpose or purpose produces character, they are intimately related. Those who succeed have the kind of character that is driven by or attracted to purpose. Stated negatively, those without purpose cannot succeed.

Character development is a decidedly spiritual issue. And St. Paul said it best, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:23).


¹Character: The peculiar quality, or the sum of qualities, by which a person or a thing is distinguished from others; the stamp impressed by nature, education, or habit; that which a person or thing really is; nature; disposition. [Webster]

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