With new relationships, how can we know what really makes someone tick, the makeup of their true character? What can we look for as a reliable telltale sign?

People are good at saying what others want and need to hear. As a professional interviewer in my executive search practice, my clients want and need to know what is under the hood, what is behind the words. But how can we know?

I’ve come to believe that the words don’t matter very much in trying to really understand people’s passions, values, and their capability for commitment. What matters is what people do. The saying is “they vote with their feet” – meaning watch the choices people make as demonstrated by their actions.

I think about a good friend of mine, Jordan Bartlett, who worked with me at McDermott + Bull, but who knew he was destined for direct community service and summoned the courage to leave his job to seek out his vision. Jordan Co-Founded and serves as “Director of Good” with Doing Good Works, a Benefit Corporation that is passionate about improving outcomes for at-risk young adults by leveraging the power of business for good. If your company uses promotional items, I encourage you to contact DGW.

I just experienced another great example from an unlikely source – the characters Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy in the novel Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (my 60th classic novel read in the past 16 months!) In the book, Mr. Wickham is the charming man with wonderful manners who everyone can’t help but like, but his choices, his judgment, his actions tell the true story of his less-than-stellar character. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, is less warm and engaging in social situations and when he is not on home turf, making many people generally uncomfortable with him, but the behind the scenes choices he makes to selflessly help others tells the true story of a character to truly admire. Even a 200-year old piece of literature can help us learn about people.

When assessing the character of someone (and this is something we each do all the time), it seems wise to try and understand where they take action, where they spend their time, where they “vote with their feet”. I wish all of us a keen eye to seeing the character of others while also realizing our own opportunity and responsibility to actively demonstrate our own.

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