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Stephen Covey’s son-in-law, as I understand it a medical student at the material time, was asked in an interview, “If being considered for surgery, would you prefer your doctor to be a man of good character, or of great competence?

The response provided was considered. “If I needed the surgery, I would want the super-competent surgeon. But if it was a question of whether I needed the surgery, I’d want the one of character.”

Good answer. But still arguably incomplete.

As I review The Three Resolutions book, and by simple virtue of the fact that I constantly review Covey’s written and spoken works (good ol’ YouTube!) I discovered yet another thought-provoker. It was about the relationship between character and competence (the Second Resolution).

In my book, I write about the progressive nature in which The Three Resolutions are applied, and the impression may be that the one leads to the next and that they are in some way separate, which is not so. They are a continuum, so the crossover from one to the next is more of a blurred edge than a fence, if you will. The same goes on the ‘separation’ between the traits linked at each level – self-discipline and self-denial are linked, not separate characteristics, for example.

Therefore, character and competence are also linked, with blurred edges and ‘bleed’ through from one to another and to the higher levels of purpose and service.

To illustrate how they are interdependent, consider how having good character means better decisions, which in turn feeds better performance (competency). Imagine those two doctors addressing the concerns of the patient. The greedy one who is super-competent might agree that the surgery is necessary, but his self-interest trumps that of the patient every time. His poor character might not affect the decision to have the surgery, but it might affect a decision during the surgery, which means he may, super-competently, do something completely unnecessary and risk the patient’s welfare. Not in terms of life or death, perhaps, but any decision made by a person of poor character is suspect. You know that. You’ve probably experienced it!

The person of good character, having concluded the surgery is necessary, is the surgeon who calls in the super-competent dodgy doc – but supervises his operation because she knows that he is suspect. Her good character means she recognises where her skills aren’t as good as his, but she doesn’t abandon her responsibility for her patient to the man of poor character.

When it comes to producing results, the two – competence and character – are inextricably interlinked but they do not, necessarily, have to exist in one person. They can exist within a carefully, ethically managed team. One that communicates, and one that knows the strengths and weaknesses within itself – and manages them in such a way as to make the weaknesses of individuals irrelevant to the whole team.

From a time management perspective this means that doing things right the first time, as a result of an individual with both great character and super competence or as a result of a team possessing those traits between them, saves a lot of do-overs, apologies, law-suits and recriminations. That is a LOT of time saved!

Endeavour to possess both character and competence but recognise when you lack the latter and seek the complementary strength required to fill that gap.

Ain’t no shame in that.