How Adults Succeed: The Hidden Power of Character

Key Point: I am working through some of the books on Bill Gates’ summer reading list. One of them is How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. Tough believes “character” has to do with practical values that help people succeed: The ability to work hard toward a goal and stick to it in the face of adversity and setbacks, the ability to rebound after failure, the inclination to do one’s best even in the absence of obvious external rewards, and the ability to delay gratification.

Tough goes on to reinforce the importance of the education system teaching and reinforcing character. I couldn’t agree more. You can have all the technical or academic skills, but if you do not have the character (attributes, characteristics, values) to execute, you will struggle mightily in a results driven environment.

In my two books, The Character Triangle, and The Character Triangle Companion, as well as in my weekly blogs, I too emphasize CHARACTER. Those that follow my writing note that I focus on self-accountability, respect and abundance as the core elements to focus on regarding character development. I do believe while attracting and selecting talent, it is an advantage and even imperative to hire on CHARACTER AND COMPETENCE. However I feel that we must be relentless on continuing to develop BOTH character and competence in employees. Just because a person has historically proven or demonstrated character, does not mean it will continue to develop.

As an example, an individual who has shown self-accountability as a trait, can be shown how the trait can evolve as complex problems emerge. Another example involves the value of respect. When one learns to apply the skill of being able to navigate a very difficult conversation, the trait of RESPECT advances. If one assumes that they already have the value of respect, with no further development required, they will short change themselves.

Character and its traits are on a continuum. It is not just about whether you “have it or not…” It is about where you are on the continuum. My argument is that the formula for how children succeed also applies to adults. It is a never-ending process.

Character Moves:

  1. Do you believe in personal character development? If so, what is your personal character development plan? What tools and skills are you putting in your quiver to progress on the character continuum? For example, what is your anti-blaming formula? Goal setting system? Overcoming resistance framework? Habit forming system? Be able to articulate your continuous character development plan and process. If you can’t, you likely don’t have one.
  2. As a leader, how are you helping others develop their character and technical work competence? If you believe that people who work for you can’t develop their character or rely on the belief they already “have it in their DNA,” you may be disappointed. Being a leader involves caring and showing/ teaching others. It is a never-ending, relentless process for you and others around you.

Hidden power of the Triangle,



Be Present or Be Gone

Key point: to be a great communicator you have to be truly present. Do you know the 4 key principles of being present? If not what do you do to practice being present? If the answer is that you don’t, you likely have some work to do.

A lot of people have asked me about what I think makes a truly great communicator. One thing I’ve always emphasized in responding, is the importance of remembering how you make people feel. However to make people feel a positive connection with you, PRESENCE is vital.  I recently ran across an iconic article written by Christopher von Baeyer entitled “The Power of Presence.” The following is the essence captured in 4 key elements:

  1. PRESENT: The ability to be centered and aware in each moment of communication.
  2. REACHING OUT: The ability to build and sustain an authentic relationship with one’s audience.
  3. EXPRESSIVE: The ability to communicate dynamically and congruently with voice, body, mind and emotion.
  4. SELF-KNOWING: The ability to reflect upon and leverage one’s unique identity as a person and a professional.

If you have consistent feedback and a validated understanding how to really apply the big 4 above, you’re probably a darn good people connector. If not , I suggest you learn more about about how to develop yourself more in this area . It is a never ending development journey. (By the way, great companies like The Boston Consulting Group, put leaders through days of training on this capability.)

Character move:

  1. Recognize that developing an authentic personal communication system is something each of us can develop. It is a skill system and not just something we’re born with or not. We have to work at it.
  2. Determine where you are relative to each of the 4 principles and pick ONE thing to work on (e.g.working at appropriate eye contact, remembering people’s names and something about them, finding our voice, etc.)
  3.  Remember that at the end of every interaction, people will remember how you made them feel over everything else.

4. Make the ability to be a great communicator and people connector one of your core skills.

Be PRESENT in The Triangle,

– Lorne


Jane Austen, the City of Bath, and the Character Triangle …Really?

Those of you who follow me, likely know that I live about a quarter of the year in Bath, United Kingdom. And of course literary buffs know that Bath is the home of the renowned author Jane Austen. I’ve consulted the work of William Deresiewicz’s book A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter on the following key lessons:

  1. Austen teaches us through the character Emma that moral responsibility means taking responsibility for the little world (what’s in our immediate control) not the big world. It means taking responsibility for ourselves!
  2. Pride and Prejudice, though the character Elizabeth, reinforces that growing up is about the character and conduct we embrace when learning from our mistakes. We are born with a whole novel of mistakes in front of us. How we are self-accountable and learn from them is most important.
  3. In the novel Mansfield Park, Jane Austen teaches us that love is a verb not a noun. Her story weaves and reinforces the concept of usefulness and value to other. In conclusion she reinforces that people’s stories are the most thing people have. Subsequently paying attention and listening to people’s stories is one of the most important things we can do for them.

Character Move:

  1. The world’s best literature, from Austen to Shakespeare, has wonderful lessons for us. Let’s give ourselves time to read and learn from them. This is almost counterintuitive to the fast paced world of the web and other media.
  2. Jane Austen’s conveyance of the importance of applying self-accountability, respect, and abundance flows through all of her novels and their rich characters. Recognize that there is something powerful to learn from the characters in novels and other media that passes the test of time.

Yesterday I walked past Jane Austen’s former home and through Sydney gardens where she famously walked daily. It made the sense of her work, which I once dismissed as “fluff,” now feel authentically very meaningful.

Love is a verb in Jane Austen’s Character Triangle,




The Chilean Miners’ Business

None of us really know how we would react under dire circumstances. The answer only comes if fate chooses to put us in such a spot. But we can learn a lot from the actions of others who live to tell the tale. The incredible rescue and survival of the Chilean miners from the San Jose mine is a spotlight on the character of man. Stories that may be somewhat disappointing are likely to emerge at a later date but for now this is what we know:

  1. The miners chose NOT to be victims from the beginning. For 17 days without contact to the outside world they chose to live, to fight, and to move forward.
  2. They worked together as a team, recognizing they each had a role to play in surviving. Imagine the respect for self and others during the 69 days. Anything else would have torn them apart.
  3. They took 2 days worth of food and made it last 17. They chose to focus on what they had, not what they lacked. They had an abundant mind set in the scarcest environment.


The last miner up the rescue capsule, at his insistence, was the shift supervisor Luis Urzua. This man, while I obviously know little about him, likely embodies every element of the Character Triangle. His leadership was symbolized by his last act as shift supervisor. He chose to be first by being last.

While suffocating in total darkness sometimes generates the brightest light, you and I (thankfully) can embody and employ the aspects of self accountability, respect, and abundance daily without the need of a rescue capsule. What we need is the conscious presence and commitment to act that way daily.

Thank you to the Chilean miners and their competent and brave rescue team to remind us who we are and what living with character means.

Live the Triangle,


Lorne Rubis

Lorne Rubis

The constant in Lorne’s diverse career is his ability to successfully lead organizations through significant change. At US West, where he served as a Vice President / Company Officer, Lorne was one of only seven direct reports ...
Read more about Lorne Rubis

Listen to Lorne's latest podcasts

Confidence, Patti Smith and Dylan: Failing authentically

Breathe fire: Leading and inspiring ourselves

Asking for feedback: The why

Taking on a new role: Lorne's journey

Lessons from Dot: Integrating technology into workplace culture


The Character Triangle Companion


Download the New eBook Today


The Character Triangle

Character Triangle Book CoverBuild Character, Have an Impact, and Inspire Others



Character Triangle

Our character is exclusively ours. We define it by how we think and what we do. I believe that acting with Character is driven by what I call the Character Triangle.

What, exactly, is the Character Triangle (CT)?

The CT describes and emphasizes three distinct but interdependent values:

Be Accountable: first person action to make things better, avoiding blame.
Be Respectful: being present, listening, looking again, focusing on the process.
Be Abundant: generous in spirit, moving forward, minimizing the lack of.

Read more about the Character Triangle


Be Accountable

Be Respectful

Be Abundant

Free Resources