Let me start by saying I place a high value on a person’s character. However, unlike like many coaches and executives I have worked with, I also understand that it is not as determinative as it is often portrayed to be in the media or as much as most people think it is.
Coaches often brag about a player being of high character. Teams and businesses often proudly state that they only hire people who possess fine character. Yet we are inundated with news stories about workers who commit malfeasance against their employer, and players who run afoul of the law from these same companies and teams that only hire people with great character.
The assumption we tend to make when things like I just described happen, is that the business or team was wrong about those individuals’ level of character. While that certainly is a valid possibility and perhaps accurate in some cases, chances are much higher that the reason for this is what is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error. This is where we take a perceived trait in someone and assume that since they possess it in one area, it applies to all areas. When it is a positive trait, like high character, it is often referred to as the “Halo Effect.”
We forget that good people sometimes do bad things; like the clergyman who cheats on his taxes, or the man who volunteers to help underprivileged children and then goes home and abuses his wife. Not long ago, several professional athletes were taken for millions of dollars by a financial advisor and when one of the bigger victims (QB Mark Sanchez) was asked about it, he said he trusted him because he was a Christian, thereby assuming he was honest and trustworthy. That is an excellent example of an attribution error in action.
New leaders often start by saying they are only going to bring in high character people. This is a great and noble idea, but if you start bringing high character people into a corrupt environment, they are more likely to become corrupt as well, rather than be able to convert the corrupt people into people of high character.
Sometimes it is better to clean house and build back up. When trying to salvage what was good, you may end up making an attribution error or two when deciding on what or who to keep, and be back where you started before you have a chance to succeed.
So, my advice to businesses and teams is to evaluate the character of all of your prospects, but do not use that evaluation as a heavily weighted factor in your hiring decision.