by Dr. Nathan Mellor

When he sat down, it was apparent that he was tired. To the casual observer, he looked like another successful executive. His shirt was pressed, and his suit tailored, but I knew him well enough to know that he was not only worn down, he was exhausted. I greeted him with a “Good morning” and then asked, “How are you?” It was my standard opening question, and he knew it. He gave me a half-smile and unconsciously exhaled as he said, “I am good.” Typically, I would have challenged him on what was a blatant lie, but I let it go. I knew he was doing the best he could amid a tough situation, and I did not think an intervention was needed in the restaurant where we had met for breakfast.

Although people of character strive to be dependable, the reality is that there are times in life when we are unable to fulfill our commitments despite our efforts. My friend was in this very spot. When he had been offered the position as CEO of his company, he knew it was going to be a challenging role. From the first day on the job, he inherited a financial crisis that would dominate his time for the next few years. At first, due to favorable market conditions, there was genuine hope that they would be able to see it through. Although they had considerable debt, they were making remarkable progress in reducing it. Based upon their early successes, if they could hold on for a couple of years, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Morale was high, and the team was focused. Unfortunately, the market that had given them hope shifted, and over the matter of a few weeks, they had lost all of the gains they had made. They were doing everything they could to change course, but they were losing ground, and it appeared inevitable that the company would ultimately fail.

We talked through the situation. Leadership had given all they had to keep the company afloat, but it had not worked. We discussed the realities of their situation, and he made a commitment, “If we don’t make it, we won’t take the easy path out. We will fight this with everything that we have. If the company fails, I want to be able to look our employees and our shareholders in the eye, knowing we tried everything possible.” To his credit, that is precisely what they did. They tried everything they knew to do, but ultimately the company did not make it.

Interestingly, throughout the process, they proved to be people of great character. As the company went through one round after another of layoffs, they did their best to honor the contributions of each employee. They communicated openly with their creditors and honored their financial obligations to the best of their ability.

Character is not only the byproduct of persevering in challenging times, but it is also revealed in how we deal with challenging times. Choosing to be a dependable person is the commitment to doing all that can be done to fulfill our commitments. When we cannot, we must demonstrate honor to others by being transparent about the situation. Often when we take the initiative to communicate, some alternatives can be explored that might provide additional options.

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