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The Gift of Character: Lessons From “It’s A Wonderful Life!”

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We live in a day where leaders rise and fall in their influence and their impact.  Talent and charisma can catapult rising stars to positions of leadership but it takes character to sustain their position in order to serve others and to leave a legacy.

What exactly is character?

Our dictionary takes us to the origin of the word- from the Latin ad Greek charakter meaning a graving tool, its mark, to engrave…..Hence, my summation is the good qualities “etched” or taken on in the life of an individual- all things integrity, goodness, standards, wisdom, self discipline, servant leadership, etc.  I  expand my definition to this- character is doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons in the right way (though challenged and many times ridiculed and opposed).  I would say most true leaders have the desire inherently in their hearts to do the aforementioned because it seems to be the “right” protocol. It is “etched” there.  It is “in character” for them to do so and to leave their mark.

This Christmas season, we especially need leaders to give the gift of character.  And of course, not just at Christmas time, but let it be the gift that keeps on giving the rest of the year as well.  Influencing and serving those we lead requires strong character.

Recently, and for the umpteenth time, I watched my favorite Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life! I found it this time around to highlight for me a poignant story of character!

We find George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) of Bedford Falls in his growing up years to already be a man of greatness and character- saving his brother from drowning in the iced-over pond, and his dramatic intervention of a certain poisoning at the hands of his drunken, grief-stricken pharmacist boss…..George had a heart of servant leadership and just naturally functioned in it even as he sacrificed his own heart’s desire to leave Bedford Falls, to go to school and see the world.  (Sidebar: do we even know the meaning of sacrifice anymore?). I digress…

Just as he was about to leave town for his own pursuits, George finds himself the necessary “shoe-in banker” to take over the Savings and Loan after his father’s death or allow the greedy, power-hungry Mr. Potter (played by Lionel Barrymore) to then take over the purse strings of the entire town.  You can just feel the sense of personal loss to George as he sees the inevitable and chooses to take the role on purely because of his strength of character, not for his own personal gain.  In fact, he is stuck there- building the Savings & Loan and other people’s fortunes to the exclusion of his own.

The end of the story finds George Bailey saying “no man is poor who has friends”- along with  the heart-warming realization of a new contentment in his leadership role.  George Bailey truly had a wonderful life serving his community, touching lives, and helping Clarence get his wings…(definitely a must-see movie).

If you are reading this as a leader and know in your heart that you need to work on this area of growing character- you are not alone.  In this world of shiny objects and the next achievement, perhaps this end of the year we all need to take a quick assessment on what really matters in our lives.  And, who really matters?  Because of your gift of character, it will be a wonderful life for you and yours and those you lead!

“No man is poor who has friends.” – George Bailey

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Erin K. Garcia is a Master’s Level Splankna Practitioner as well as a Professional Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation. Erin brings Neuro-Performance and Leadership Coaching to the forefront in a day when people want to get to the root causes and hidden blocks keeping them from the successful outcomes they desire. Her book, The Real Skinny On My Anorexia, was released in 2016.

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