What does character mean to you? How would you define it? And perhaps most importantly, what role does character play in your agency or organization?
To some, character is a part of personality – something you're born with or has been shaped at an early age. But Ray Nash has an alternative premise: that character can be trained – just as you would do firearms training or learn how to do paperwork.
Be sure to join us Feb 6 when Ray shares how to build a culture of character by:
- Gaining a new vocabulary
- Making the “character connection” by recognizing the qualities that produce high achievement
- Anticipating the character test.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors: Your webinar is specifically about character and the role that plays in law enforcement activities. Tell us a little bit about what you mean by “character?” How is it related to law enforcement (and leadership for that matter?)
Ray Nash: Character has been defined many ways. One that's made the rounds is: "Character is what you would do if no one was looking." I like to add "and if you don't think you will get caught!" But the definition I like to use in our training is: "the inward motivation to do the right thing, regardless of the circumstances… and regardless of the costs." Character is about consistency. Trust is built when we can predict someone's reaction no matter the circumstances. In other words, they should be the same person when they are under stress as when they are not under stress. They should be the same whenever confronted with challenges or temptations. And it often costs us something to do the right thing. Many of us have paid that price many times. Doing the right thing might cost you a relationship, a reputation, a promotion, a job, or a court case. But choosing to do the right thing consistently over a period of time is what gives us a reputation for being a man or a woman of character.
America is looking for heroes.
And my definition of a hero is someone who has cultivated
and integrated a unique set of virtues in their life
that lie right under the surface,
ready to spring into action at the moment of need.
JCH: Many people probably assume character is simply a case of personality – what you’re born with. How do you train or shape a person’s character to be a better officer or leader?
Ray: In my opinion, this is a myth that has largely been perpetrated upon us by some in academia and pop-culture. I am absolutely convinced that character is trainable, even as adults. But there is this prevailing mindset in our profession that our character and virtue is firmly established at a very young age, as young as age seven. The idea is that character is something that either you have it or you don’t. Either you got it at home, you got it at school, you got it at church, you got it at the synagogue, but you got it somewhere other than here. Because now you’re an adult!
Now, don’t get me wrong. We really don’t want you working for us if you happen to be a man or a woman of poor character. And we’re going to do our best to screen you out. That’s why so many agencies have an extensive selection process. We do backgrounds, driver histories, credit histories, psychologicals, and even polygraphs in our attempts to weed out the bad apples. But there is this prevailing mindset that, if despite our best efforts, you somehow manage to slip past our defenses, now we’re just stuck with you! At least until you screw something up bad enough. Then maybe we can kick you out.
We challenge that mindset. We are absolutely convinced that there are specific strategies that we can employ to improve our own character, as well as to encourage those around us to improve theirs. And that’s part of Making the Character Connection – some practical ways for building a culture of character in any public safety organization.
Character is "the inward motivation to do the right thing,
regardless of the circumstances…
and regardless of the costs."
JCH: What do you think the biggest myths or misconceptions are around character?
Ray: The biggest myth is one we just debunked. But the second is similar. It’s that competence produces character. This why so much of our training is focused on competencies. Think about it. Up until this point in your career, how much of your professional training has been competency-based versus how much has been character-based? What percentage of training has focused on the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do the job versus what percentage has focused on ethics, character, and leadership? When I ask that question to a room full of public safety professionals, I never hear a percentage lower than 80% on the competency side. Some say as high as 95 or 100%! Yet on which side of this equation are almost ALL of our problems.
Think about it this way. When was the last time someone in your agency was terminated for a lack of competence? Just couldn’t pass the firearms course? Gave them remedial training. Had them shoot the course over and over. Just could not qualify. Had to terminate them. Couldn’t pass the EVOC course. Kept running over the cones. Had to let them go. Could not write a legible report to save their life. Had to cut the cord.
Don’t get me wrong. Those things happen on occasion. But when’s the last time something like that happened versus someone got terminated because they lied to a supervisor? They took something that didn’t belong to them? They slapped a handcuffed prisoner? Used excessive force? Embezzled money out of the jail commissary account? Took improper liberties with an inmate, an informant, or a junior officer? These are the types of things that are killing our reputation in the community and they are all character failures.
All of them helped shape my integrity and hone my leadership skills.
I especially appreciate those who had more confidence in me than I had in myself
and forced me outside of my comfort zone.
I like to surround myself with great role-models to this day.
JCH: You’ve been in leadership and around leaders for 40-50 years, and so certainly have been exposed to some amazing individuals. Who were the leaders who shaped who you are today? What were the most important lessons you learned from them that provided foundational lessons you relied on during your career?
Ray: First of all, no fair dating me! There have been so many leaders who have shaped who I am it’s really hard to answer this question. The older I get, the more I recognize that I am just the sum total of what others have invested in me over the years. I have always sought out great leaders in whatever arena I happened to develop an interest. Early in my career, I was exposed to some fantastic street cops and police leaders. Later on, I was around some incredible instructors in both the law enforcement and martial arts arenas. All of them helped shape my integrity and hone my leadership skills. I especially appreciate those who had more confidence in me than I had in myself and forced me outside of my comfort zone. I like to surround myself with great role-models to this day.
As an aside, I think this is something that is largely lost in the current generation. The idea of mentorship. I don’t see people seeking it out like I have always tried to do. I don’t know that I planned it or really thought about it. But I have always felt drawn to greatness and passion. That’s why I enjoy traveling around the world and interacting with law enforcement and public safety officers. America is looking for heroes. And my definition of a hero is someone who has cultivated and integrated a unique set of virtues in their life that lie right under the surface, ready to spring into action at the moment of need.
JCH: A large number of our readers and subscribers are in law enforcement, but we have representation from all parts of the justice arena. Can you share some specifics of what different types of justice professionals or first responders will gain by attending your webinar? What skills or new knowledge will they gain that they can immediately use the next day on the job?
Ray: This is one of the neat things when it comes to character. The principles of virtue are timeless and universal. They apply to every institution, every profession, every organization, and every relationship. Technology advances and the world changes but character remains the same. The same principles that made successful organizations, leaders, communities, or families a thousand years ago still make them successful today. I teach the same principles to business leaders and other government officials that I teach to law enforcement and public safety officers. I even do an ethics lecture every year for dental students at our local medical university!
The fundamental principle we will examine in the webinar is how to connect achievement with the character that produced it. That’s what I mean by “Making the Character Connection.” When we focus on achievement to the exclusion of character, we actually encourage bad character. We will explore this concept in detail and I will present a very compelling, yet tragic, story that drove this point home to me early in my career as Sheriff.
We should be seeking out higher understandings and appreciation for the principles that drive success and excellence. Character is the key. The principles we will discuss in the webinar will apply to every organization and every justice professional who is interested in pursuing excellence of character and building an institution on the foundation of virtue. They can even be applied at home. One of my favorite quotes is from General Norman Schwarzkopf: “Leadership is a potent combination of character and strategy. But if you have to be without one, be without the strategy!”