Outsourcing and Call Center Blog

16 November, 2007

Character Matters

The new website is coming along and with a little bit of luck I’ll finish it before my last day of work at the end of November. They are supposed to be migrating it from the developer’s test site to our test site today and we’ll start heavy testing on it on Monday. There are still a thousand “finishing touches” that need to be done, one of them is final edits on the Management Bios, the material that goes along with the pictures of our executive team. Today we were struggling with the one for the president of the company. We were “struggling” in the literal sense of the word, especially over a bit in there about his charitable work – how to talk about it.

How to get just the right amount of humility and importance into describing how the boss has funded 100 computers for a school that works with poor kids? This wasn’t easy and I’m still not sure we got it right, but at one point my colleague who is responsible for writing the bio said, “Why don’t we just scrap that whole section”. Normally if you have to work this hard to get a couple of lines right in a piece, that’s the right idea, don’t force it. But it this case I said, “No, this matters”, and we kept working on it. I think the boss’s charitable work matters because it speaks to his character and character matters.

To a large extent, “character” is what most of this blog is about. I’ve written about the importance of honesty, of building trust, of providing value and of acting ethically. These are really all personal character traits that I hope we carry through into the way we interact with our customers, our suppliers, our colleagues and the way we do business in general. If I look closely, there are two reasons that I write about these things, one is internal, the other external.

Why Talk About Character
The “internal” reasons for writing about character probably belong more on my personal blog than here, but let me try to summarise them without getting to “all introspective”. Like many people, I figured out a while back that there must be more to life that getting up and going to work every day, there must be more to life than making money, there must be more to life even than the pursuit of happiness – but what the heck is it? I won’t try to explain that here, but I will tell you that I’ve concluded that character building is a huge part of it. Think about the sheer permanence of character; a flood can wash away your house, a war or depression can take your life savings, your wife can run away with the milkman, but your character will always be with you, and it might survive you as well.

My external reasons for writing on this topic have to do with India. I was working in the Czech Republic in the late 90s when things were booming there. They were breaking out of their Soviet-dominated past and preparing to join the EU, but it was nothing to compare to the energy and inertia that I’ve seen here in India. The growth here looks pretty unstoppable to me, but with this kind of growth what they are going to stumble from is a shortage of leaders. The “system” here does not encourage leaders, quite the contrary, it tends to create followers. That’s not good and it’s something well beyond me how to fix it. One thing I do know is that leadership is built on character and if I can contribute to building leaders in any way here, I will have done something useful.

Why Character Matters to Outsourcing Businesses
Call me a dreamer, but I think this is one of those, “Why is there air?”, kinds of questions. Nonetheless, let me challenge myself to justify my idealism. We’re trying to sell services here to overseas buyers. Now, if I believe what the really smart guys say about selling, then people buy on emotion and justify with facts. If I equate “emotion” with “gut feel” then people are basing their purchasing decisions in large part on what their gut feel is about me and my company and that means they are, at some level, assessing my character.

Leadership is another reason I need to worry about character in my business. I need good leaders and I can’t depend on hiring them, I have to build them. I need role models for that and I need to inculcate my staff with the kind of character traits that encourage leadership.

So, the trouble of getting the wording right for the bosses bio was worth it I think. Now I just hope he doesn’t insist on us removing it.



  1. Steve,

    Yes – character matters. But you can’t “build” good leaders. You need to “develop” them. You develop them through mentoring those individuals that exhibit leadership characteristics such as honesty, loyalty, integrity, morals, etc. You can’t build these in people. Either they have them or they don’t. You can teach anyone to do a job but you can’t teach them character and by default you can’t build them.

    I value ethics just as you do. I am successful because I surround myself with people who are not “yes” people and who exhibit 2 key leadership traits – honesty and loyalty.

    Try hiring individuals that have an established reputation on exhibiting leadership characteristics and you will not have to worry about building them – just shape and mold them as a potter does with clay until the desired shape is formed.

    Take care.


    Comment by Jim — 18 November, 2007 @ 23:29 | Reply

  2. Hi Jim,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree, “build” is a funny word to use with regard to leaders, it was a bit of shorthand to distinguish between organic growth and hiring them.

    I really like your comment “I am successful because I surround myself with people who are not “yes” people and who exhibit 2 key leadership traits – honesty and loyalty”. I think I am going to put this up on the white board in my office today.


    Comment by shamrin — 19 November, 2007 @ 12:45 | Reply

  3. First of all, I must congratulate you on your nicely written article… I have 6 questions for you:
    1) Define the term leader?
    2) Define the term leadership?
    3) Define the term character? (Though you have written the characteristics of the one with a strong character, but please define the term itself)
    4) Differentiate between the character of a good leader and a good follower? (This question is for Jim too)…
    5) Do you consider Bill Clinton as a good leader (like the most of America)? Please answer keeping Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones in consideration…
    6) Are there two kind of people in this world namely Leaders and Followers? Aren’t Leaders also the followers in some way?

    “Note: I don’t have any preconceived answers for any of these questions”

    Comment by Sameer — 20 November, 2007 @ 19:06 | Reply

  4. I agree, “build” is a funny word to use with regard to leaders, it was a bit of shorthand to distinguish between organic growth and hiring them

    Comment by OutsourceAccount — 6 February, 2009 @ 19:38 | Reply

  5. Hi, I was looking for Call Center Call Ethics. Mostly, I found topics that is something about the call agent or call representative and how they deal with their clients. How about ethics for call center agents among their co-workers when receiving calls? How do you deal with call agents who answer calls so loud? Their voices dominates the whole office. It’s disturbing and distracting others. What’s the most appropriate guide on this please? I will be very grateful if there is another guidelines about this matter. Thanks!

    Comment by Jane — 6 July, 2010 @ 22:15 | Reply

    • I don’t really see an issue of ethics in your stated question. No doubt a noisy neighbour is annoying and distracting though.

      Here’s what I would do, after he gets off a particularly loud call, I would approach him in a very friendly and collegial way and just say, “Hey, that last call with Mr. Smith about his over-billing, you handled it great but your voice was quite loud and it distracted me from what I was doing. Do you think you could pull back the volume a little bit, the soundproofing in this office is just terrible.”

      Bear in mind that he probably doesn’t know that he is too loud and has been annoying you for some time. Also, give him an out so that he doesn’t feel like he is to blame and has to get defensive about it, blame your employer’s work environment – this should relieve any tension in the conversation. As long as you keep this conversation friendly, it will give you an opening to bring the topic up again. You’re going to have to train him a bit to keep his voice down. With time and persistence on your part, you’ll get there.

      Good luck.

      Comment by shamrin — 7 July, 2010 @ 2:37 | Reply

  6. Thank you for your reply. I appreciate it.

    Comment by Jane — 7 July, 2010 @ 18:29 | Reply

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