Many of us have to make decisions that define who we are. It's often arriving at the crossroads of choosing between towing the line or doing the difficult, unpopular thing. And sometimes, doing what you know is the right thing may lead to quitting a job, firing someone, severing a partnership, and even divorcing a spouse.

For leaders in work cultures that thrive, this idea of "doing the right thing" means walking the higher road of integrity and "moral authority."

This is the stuff of which legacies are made, careers advance, and companies ultimately flourish. It should always be a non-negotiable. But there is a hard prerequisite.

The best leaders display their characters in full view

To reach that state of loyalty where people trust you at your every word requires the daily act of exposing your values, beliefs, convictions, and morals to others in close quarters. When your actions are observed, and you know you can trust your own actions out in the open, your reputation is upheld. People never question your decisions or challenge you on an issue that opposes your character; they know where your stand.

Unfortunately, character can be fleeting at times and anyone is at risk from falling off the wagon. Warren Buffett once wrote this little gem of a statement in one of his annual letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders years back: "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."

Anyone's reputation, whole career, or success can quickly fall like a house of cards, no matter the hard effort made or accolades won over the years. Just ask Martin Winterkorn, the former chief executive of Volkswagen, who resigned following the embarrassing diesel emissions deception and cover-up, for which he admitted responsibility.

Without character running through your veins as the source of your decision-making process, and without integrity as your internal GPS system navigating you through life, you're going to eventually fail.

Working in integrity means that you don't question your character, especially when the choice isn't easy.

In his book, Uncommon, Hall of Fame football coach Tony Dungy writes "Integrity--the choice between what's convenient, and what's right."

Character means staying true to yourself and your values, even when you're faced with serious consequences for the right choices that you're making--like, perhaps, losing a job. Is your character willing to take that hit? When you listen to your heart and make choices aligned with character, you simplify your life and live in peace.

Final thoughts

Most of us have had some type of character and trust issue at one time or another in our lives which may have held us back. That doesn't make you bad, broken, or inadequate. It just means you are human, and you're forgiven. The good news is that we all can turn our past failures and shortcomings into opportunities to grow our character, develop trust with others, and build leadership capacity to influence people to do great things.