According to John Maxwell in his book 21 Qualities of a Leader, we create “character” every time we make a choice.  Okay. So, think of your list of character traits.  Mine would include persistence, proactivity, integrity, devotion, spirituality, optimism, and fairness.  On the dark side, I would also include impatience, abrasiveness, decisiveness, and pettiness.  I’m also a “fixer,” but I’m not quite sure if that is one trait or a bunch thrown together to explain why I must fix things. 

    If I buy into what Maxwell is saying, then all of these traits were created by the choices I made.  You mean I wasn’t born this way?  I didn’t inherit these traits from my parents?  More likely, I learned these traits from my parents.  They modeled the ways in which they handled life’s situations, I watched, and I made similar decisions.  As we grow into adolescence, we begin disagreeing with some of our parents’ methods and start making some of our own choices. 

    I think confusion comes from not knowing the difference between personality and character.  Several studies have shown that our personalities are pretty much set by age five.  The personality is the range of different characteristics and qualities a person has.  It is who we seem to be; who we present to the world.  It can change over time, but those changes don’t come because of pressure from society.

    When we refer to character, however, we are talking about who we really are… the part of us that stays hidden from society…. that inner voice that helps us make decisions. This is mental or moral behavior that definitely requires validation from society, and it is absolutely learned.  Oddly enough, though, once learned, it doesn’t really change within us. 

    So, as I set out to teach leadership traits to my students, one might ask, “Why bother if character traits don’t really change in a person?”  This is true… but unlike personality, the character traits aren’t set by age five.  I’m trying to ensure that a child’s introduction to that character trait involves the best qualities of leadership so that the choices made are good ones.  That is worth my time!

    The next twenty-one TriOpinion blogs are going to go hand-in-hand with the leadership traits we are teaching at our school that week.  This first one is obviously character, and in teaching character, I am going to be asking kids to look at the way they make choices.  I’m going to encourage students to make the best choices and to stay away from choices that are good to some people and bad to other people. Leaders cannot afford to perform in those gray areas due to the amount of scrutiny under which leaders perform!

    As parents of gifted children, I want you to understand that your child is prone to self-advancement, even if that self-advancement is only a way to get out of required work.  Most gifted kids live in the “gray area” of choices.  Your gifted child wants to engage you on why a particular choice is wrong, and he will often times manipulate the situation until you are feeling like you almost saying the same thing he is.  In my time of working with gifted children, I have debated everything from whether or not grades are an adequate measure of worth to whether or not I am allowed to “assign” genders.  (I don’t feel as if I’m “assigning” them, but I have been told otherwise!)  There is truth in both sides of the debate, but the gifted child’s goal isn’t necessarily truth; more often than not, it’s just “rattling you”!  If you know that going in, though, the debate can become enjoyable and instructional.  I happen to enjoy a good discussion.  It keeps me thinking.  Sometimes my opinions have been changed on a subject.  Never my character, though.  The decisions I make are always in line with my character.  And here we are, full circle. 

    So, Parents, if you want your child to develop positive character traits, you must teach them to him.  This requires questioning your child about decisions.  How did you come to this decision?  Was this the best choice, or is there another possibility?  Have you hurt others by making this choice, or is this a win/win?   Getting our children to think through a decision and its consequences is the first step to helping them become good leader.  And the good news is that, once you instill good character, it will stay!

-        Michelle