The Character Ethic vs. The Personality Ethic – Why Character Trumps Personality

As Stephen Covey writes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, most of the success literature published in the United States for the first 150 years focused on The Character Ethic as being the foundation of success. Things like integrity, humility, simplicity, fairness, modesty, love, courage, justice, and the Golden Rule.

However, shortly after World War I, Covey explains, the basic view of success shifted from the Character Ethic to The Personality Ethic.

In these books, the driving force behind success was shown to be an individual’s personality – as opposed to character.

Things like public image, how you dress, how you perform in social interactions; positive mental attitude, skills and techniques to get people to behave in certain ways.

While some of this newer literature briefly discussed the importance of character, it became mostly lip service – as long as you say and do the right things and package yourself in the right ways, you will be likely to get the results you want.

Since I was born in the late 1960’s, I had virtually no experience with the success literature from the earlier, Character Era.

Instead, I was raised on a steady diet of Personality.

All of the success books I read or listened to said that you should smile, dress nice, say and do the right things – and if you look good and appear interested in other people, you can pretty much get what you want in life.

I had unwittingly been taught to try and control, manipulate, and maneuver my way through life – without ever taking into account Who I Really Am or what I actually wanted to do.

It occurred to me that this was the height of irony – because, as all these books and programs had been telling us on one hand that this is the way to “get what you want in life”…

The hidden – or no-so-hidden – message in all of these programs is also: “Fake it until you make it.”

Meaning: “You can fake people out and it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who YOU are; just make other people LIKE YOU and you’ll get what you want you most of the time.”

Wow. That was a stunning realization for me.

Because I was shocked to realize that while I had been mostly faking my way through life – because I had no idea who I was or what I really wanted…

I also realized how many people I had been manipulated by, who had done the exact same thing to ME – because we’d all been reading the same books!

All I had ever tried to do was change my personality

Because that’s what I was told to do: Change Who I Was.

Because I assumed that I had to do that…

Because that’s what all these books told me to do, in order to succeed in this world.

The fact is, in all these books, I never heard anyone talk about what character IS or how important it is – or even mention that you should have it!

As I teach my clients in The Power Habits® System, every day I see more and more how important it is to get back to The Character Ethic.

How do you do that?

As Stephen Covey (my first unofficial mentor) often said (I’m paraphrasing): “The fastest way to build character is to make a promise and keep it.”

I wholeheartedly agree.

Because isn’t it true that the most important – and easiest to judge – measure of a person’s character is to see if they do what they say they’re going to do.

There’s another old saying: “After all is said and done, more is said than done.”

Ain’t THAT the truth!

It’s so easy to SAY you’re going to do something…

“I’m going to write my book… I’m going to fix the lawnmower… I’m going to get in shape…”

But when push comes to shove, and the going gets tough, that’s when our WORDS tend to fall short of our ACTIONS.

“Oh, I’ll write when I feel inspired… I’ve got some important TV watching to do…”

By the way, have you ever noticed when the going gets tough?

Exactly – all the time!

There are always roadblocks, reversals, things we didn’t expect that come up.

That’s called LIFE.

And the truth is that most people would rather have EXCUSES than SUCCESS.

So ask yourself a simple question:

“Would I rather have excuses or success?”

And for the word success – just substitute what you want – e.g., money, health, happiness, peace of mind…

The truth is, there are always excuses not to take action.

Excuses are EASY.

Excuses, however, are just another form of letting ourselves be run by FEAR and letting our lives be guided by fear – the belief in “not-enough.”

Yet as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Inside of us, we know that on the other side of fear lies freedom.”

Noah’s Note: Working on your Personality without improving your Character is like building your house on a foundation of sand. 


P.S. If you’d like to learn more about how to get unstuck and find your Authentic voice, join me for this FREE Masterclass — because I’ll show you how to boost your income AND your self-confidence.

I believe in you!


Noah St. John, Author The Book of Afformations®

Founder of Power Habits® Academy and 6-Figure Business Machine

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2017-07-19T07:48:18+00:00 By |24 Comments


  1. Paul February 5, 2014 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    Being born in the early sixties I guess I was subjected to the same kind of head trash. I have never been a big fan of the “Fake It ‘Till You Make It” way of thought and have never felt comfortable when ever I tried it. It just seemed FAKE.

    You are an awakened soul Noah and the world needs your message right now. Keep doing it your way and showing the world who you really are.

  2. Bob Wakitsch February 5, 2014 at 3:16 pm - Reply


    You should read the book “Pendulum” by Roy H. Williams and Michael Drew. You’re on to something here, and they explain it perfectly. You’ll discover why this post is relevant right now, and when it will swing back to ‘personality ethic’ again – and it will!.

    • Noah St. John February 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      Thanks Bob – I am very familiar with their work and the Pendulum theory. I agree, it’s very enlightening. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Catharine Hay February 5, 2014 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    As I am a little bit older than you, born in the mid ’50s, I do remember something about the Character Era. I have never liked appearing fake or phony. It is important to me that I am authentic in my dealings with people. I have been told I have a lot of integrity and that is important to me. I am also very honest, sometimes to a fault. That being said, I do not care for the “fake” culture of recent years. I enjoyed reading your article. Keep up the good work.

  4. Wayne Cook February 5, 2014 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    I couldn’t agree more. Have written several articles on the subject.

  5. Su February 5, 2014 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    Yes, this needs to be discussed more. Character was the one thing in my day that defined the person. We do not talk about character today. It is no wonder our youth are confused. They are told personality is king and then get into trouble when they try to use personality to get out of trouble and someone says to them they need to stand up and have more character. What???????? is that they say.

  6. Jason Taylor February 5, 2014 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    I love your article Noah. This is so true, and is something that I focus on everyday. Your true self is all you need, defend it with your life and you will find happiness in all that you do!

    • Noah St. John February 6, 2014 at 5:16 pm - Reply

      You got it Jason!

  7. sherri taus February 5, 2014 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    Noah, This is Oh, so important. If we are all faking it then who are we, really? And then who are you really fooling but yourself. I have been trying to make things right with so many people and some organizations that don’t really have values. It is really hard to accomplish anything when it takes two or more to communicate about something and one of the two or, more is manipulating everyone, So, if we all can only control what we do, how we act and intermingle with others and how we address issue issues… that is the easy part. If we have personal agreements, legal agreements, etc. and the other people never intended to follow through on their agreements with those of us who are trying to play by the rules, then the all suffer in that particular group. If you have read any of the books by Don Miguel Ruiz such as The Four Agreements…you will understand what I am writing about. This is the hardest thing to deal with because it wastes time, money, energy, love, and moving forward-type behavior. And if there are other people involved it makes it worse for all of the others that are strung along for the merriment of one person not following the agreement.

  8. Greg February 6, 2014 at 12:13 am - Reply

    I also read some older books and biographies on leaders and successful businessmen. I had heard it said that J. P. Morgan said, “I don’t lend money on creditworthiness. I lend it on character.” I did find that he actually said it, cited in one of his biographies.

    • Noah St. John February 6, 2014 at 5:16 pm - Reply

      Great quote – Thanks Greg.

  9. Irina Sharie February 6, 2014 at 1:20 am - Reply

    True… That’s why some people’s convictions won’t stick… Sweet talk with no substance will show, sooner or later… I believe, both traits are important, though… Social skills are also important.

    Besides, it’s always been out there: “Walk Your Talk”…

  10. 'Biodun Agbaje February 6, 2014 at 4:07 am - Reply

    Wonderful one Noah. It is one thing to fake your way to the top and it is another thing for your true self to crash you like a pack of cards. You can’t stay at the top if you do not have the right attitude that comes with your character.

  11. Bob Picha February 6, 2014 at 9:46 am - Reply

    In 1989 I worked with Dr. John Geier, the developer of the “Personal Profile System….A Plan To Understand Yourself And Others Better”. He had also developed a concept called Aristos Psychology
    and an assessment which generated a “Character Profile”. It was very well received as we traveled the country certifying trainers.
    In the words of Bob Conklin…”What you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear a word you are saying”.

  12. Doris L. Rivers February 6, 2014 at 10:38 am - Reply

    Yes Noah, I thoroughly enjoyed this message. It fortifies what I have been practicing on a daily basis. My goal is to be a PROFESSIONAL in my MLM BUSINESS (ORGANO GOLD). Thank you for all the POSITIVE INPUT that I look forward to on a daily basis to spend the 10,000 hours working on myself.

    Doris L. Rivers

  13. udhay kumar February 6, 2014 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Fake it till you make it and after that you discover that you are a fake piece and not an authentic masterpiece. great article Noah. Afformations are transforming my life in a decisive manner.

    • Noah St. John February 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      That’s awesome, Udhay. Keep me posted and Keep Afforming!

  14. Chris Hollis February 6, 2014 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    Personally I think people in general tend to speak out both sides of their mouth. By saying that doesn’t mean I think all people are this way. I am from the old school of treating others like I want to be treated. I am honest and trustworthy in my dealings with my peers. This is untrue for some people, i.e., they like you for as long as it takes for you to fall in love with their ideas, but soon turn their back on the same people they call friends. I think character is more important than personality, but having a good personality is important, too!

  15. Olaf Eklund February 7, 2014 at 1:07 am - Reply

    This is a real wake-up call! I have found so often in MLM organizations that the personality cult is dominant; there is a lot of hype and standing ovations for the people who have “made it”, but when I looked at the personal development side of most of those organizations, I found they focus on changing your personality.

  16. google plus and facebook June 9, 2014 at 12:15 am - Reply

    Wonderful goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and
    you’re just extremely magnificent. I really like what you have acquired here, certainly like what
    you are stating and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still care for to
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  17. Mute /mu-te/ January 29, 2015 at 2:58 pm - Reply

    Hello Noah,
    This is an awesome piece. I run a class on Facebook where people pay to participate and the entire 2 week course is based on this. BEing precedes DOing. Who we are is more important than what we do. I really pray more people return to the Character era.


  18. Christine Hoeflich September 3, 2016 at 1:00 am - Reply

    Thanks for your article, Noah. Yes, we need a balance of character and personality. It’s hard to imagine though, that someone with character would have no personality…Do you have an example of a historical figure with character but no personality? (You have both!)

  19. Susan Kautzer September 4, 2016 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    I’m pretty much a straight shooter. You get me as I am. I say things as I see them. I don’t change myself to impress anybody except myself. I figure the right people for me will show up in my life with me just being me. Considering I have the most awesome customers, hosts, team members, & friends and can connect with anyone any place at any time in just minutes, I think it’s working just fine for me.

  20. Sandy November 5, 2016 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    That insight solves the problem. Thanks!

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