Character: The Essential Quality of Leadership

by Jim Deason
via The Jackson Drive Reporter, Nov. 15, 2009

He saw it happen but somehow it didn't register in his mind. The peanut butter was in the cart, but somehow it never made it to the conveyor belt that carried it by the cashier. The bag boy just picked it up, unpaid for, and put it in the paper sack. And a few seconds later everyone was out the door, into the car, and headed down the street toward home. Just outside the parking lot, the man realized what had happened. He checked the ticket to make sure and, sure enough, he had not paid for the peanut butter. This presented a character test. What does he do? Likely no one even saw it happen. He's certain that the cashier didn't see it. Even the bag boy probably didn't realize the mistake he had made. But the man did. What to do?

Option one: Don't think about it any more. Carry the peanut butter home and make your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, eat, drink your milk, and enjoy. It's not a great expense. The store will never miss the inventory. More than one jar of peanut butter has been destroyed on the floor. It was as much their mistake as yours. And the things are over-priced anyway. They call it rationalization.

Option two: (and the right one): Turn the car and the restless kids around. Explain to them why you have to go back to the store. Listen to their moans. Go into the store slightly embarrassed. Explain to the cashier what had happened. Pay for the peanut butter. And go home to eat (and sleep) with a clear conscience.

That's a lot of fuss over one small jar of peanut butter, you say? Maybe so. But the peanut butter is not the real issue here. The issue is character. Integrity. Honesty. Jesus said, "He who if faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much" (Luke 16:10). If a person would, however innocently it may occur, take a jar of peanut butter without paying for it, you certainly couldn't trust him with the company store. Integrity has no price tag, whether small or great.

I once read that character is what you are when no one is looking. I like that. It's first an issue within you. It is how and what you decide that you are going to be. It is the principle by which you live. And, in another sense, you either or a person of character or you are not. And you are the one who decides.

I wouldn't take anything for the lesson I taught my children when I turned around and carried that peanut butter back into the story to pay for it. Actually, I couldn't do anything else at the time. But this was an opportunity to state in unmistakable terms
something about the kind of person I wanted to be ... and it said something to them about the kind of person I wanted to be ... and it said something to them about the kind of person I wanted them to be. I also like the impression it made upon that cashier. I didn't know her. But I think I made her day. I have often wondered if , in her quiet and meditative moments, she ever recalls the men who returned to pay for the peanut butter?

Now, lest you think that relating this is self-righteous on my part, I want you to know that I have probably, in my own spiritual weakness, failed more character tests than I have passed. But I did pass this one. And there'll be another.

I have written this for the purpose of provoking your mind to think about character. What it is, and its importance as we discuss the topic of leadership whether religious or civil. Character is the essential foundation of good leadership. It is the indispensable quality of a good role model.