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OPINION: Lasting success requires a focus on substance over spectacle

Emphasis on integrity, honesty and hard work has given way to personal brand-building

I had a manager tell me many years ago that life will continue to teach you the same lesson until you learn it. Psychology teaches that we have patterns of behaviour that repeat themselves until we learn to work on them, instead of them working on us. As we hit the middle years of this decade, I wonder: What is the 100-year cycle repeating that we haven’t learned yet?

Following the First World War, a fascinating transformation swept through success literature, shifting the focus from character-based principles to personality-centred theories. This shift didn't escape Stephen Covey, whose insights illuminate the role of changing societal norms and priorities. Could we be in a similar phase just beyond the pandemic, akin to the early 1920s?

Covey's observations hold resonance today, going beyond history to reflect our modern obsession with personal branding, self-promotion, and instant gratification. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey emphasizes success rooted in principles, asserting that lasting achievement arises from character development, ethical choices, and alignment with universal truths.

One only needs to look at the people we have leading three of the major national political parties. During Stampede, the prime minister was seen walking down 7th Avenue in Calgary, with throngs of young people wanting a selfie with him. He lives for this adoration.  Pierre Poilievre has removed his glasses lately, presumably to make himself more appealing, and there has never been a more bespoke NDP leader than Jagmeet Singh and his Armani suits and Rolex watch. Do we know the character of them, or just the brand that has been created by their handlers?

Preceding the First World War, successful literature predominantly centred on character, emphasizing virtues such as integrity, honesty, and hard work. The works of authors like Benjamin Franklin and Dale Carnegie underscored the importance of cultivating qualities that would stand the test of time. However, the devastation and disillusionment wrought by the war and pandemic catalyzed a seismic societal shift. As the world grappled with the aftermath of destruction, economic instability, and cultural upheaval, the focus on timeless character traits gave way to a new fascination with personality, charisma, and the allure of quick success.

Today's analysis warns against forsaking values for popularity. In a society enamoured by surface appeal, an emphasis on character becomes crucial. Neglecting ethical principles for personality-driven branding risks hollow victories. This stance aligns with the idea that authentic success stems from a moral compass grounded in ethics and integrity. "Character ethic" counters fleeting strategies, advocating habits of personal growth, accountability, responsibility, discipline, and empathy.

Moreover, these insights have gained even greater relevance in the digital age, where personal branding, social media, and online presence have become integral to modern success. The proliferation of platforms that celebrate and amplify personality traits has the potential to further dilute the importance of character-driven principles.

The transformation in success literature from a character-based foundation to a personality-centred approach reflects broader societal shifts in values and priorities. The post-First World War era witnessed a profound change driven by cultural, psychological, and technological factors. Covey's wisdom remains a beacon of insight, offering a timeless reminder that true success cannot be built on fleeting charisma alone. As we navigate a world inundated with trends and superficial allure, Covey's message serves as a call to prioritize character development, ethical principles, and enduring virtues in our pursuit of meaningful and lasting success. It is a reminder that the pursuit of lasting success requires a focus on building substance over spectacle, character over charisma.

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