The Tree or The Shadow

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
~Abraham Lincoln


My wife was reading the Chicago Tribune yesterday when she saw this quote, and Lincoln’s words really seemed to resonate with me.  There are two aspects of this quote that caught my attention.


The first point of interest is the man who is credited with this quote and how history has continued to define the true strength of his character.  But even more amazing than his actions during one of the most volatile times in American history, was his awareness that not only was his leadership being tested, but also his character.


The second aspect that struck me – How many of us have that same ability; the ability to face tremendous adversity and, at the same time, hold tight to the awareness that our character will not only define us but also define the decisions we make?  Before you answer this question, let us first define character.


One dictionary defines character as, “The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” Another states that it is, “The complex of mental and ethical traits marking a person.”  In yet another dictionary, character is said to be, “The stable and distinctive qualities built into an individual’s life which determine his or her response regardless of circumstances.”


Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow.  The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”  Our character is much more than the facade we attempt to display for others to see (the shadow), it is who we are even when no one is watching (the tree).  Good character is doing the right thing because, quite simply, it is the right thing to do.


You see, character is not something you can hide or mask with position or power.  You cannot rationalize away wrong doing because it is best for the business or, perhaps, because other more successful individuals have done so.  According to Lincoln, in order to be “the real thing”, you cannot pick and choose when you wish to demonstrate good character; all you can do is add to the building blocks of what defines yours.


Character is the tree.  Reputation is the shadow.  Which best describes you?





My goal for this blog has always been two-fold. First, I have the opportunity to share my insights and years of experience with you, the reader. And second, I myself get to hear your thoughts, opinions, experiences, etc. To make this blog a mutually beneficial experience, I would ask that you take the time to post your comments, your questions and your own war stories from your years in the business. Let’s use this blog to generate dialogue on the issues we’ve all faced in our businesses and work together to come to some great solutions.


To see more of my blog and find more helpful tips, you can follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Categories: Business Management, Executive Coaching, Leadership | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to The Tree or The Shadow

  1. Jeff Beres says:

    Very impactful message. In the very fast world we live in today, where electronic media is taking the place of personal and business interaction, true character is often overlooked and sometimes hard to find. We should all strive to be more like the tree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *