Thin Difference is a virtual table where we can sit down to exchange ideas, tips, and insights across generations. Millennials, or Generation Y, are the new generation of leaders, and the future is bright with their talent and energy. Our mission is to encourage, empower, and inspire them to create a big leadership story.
Has our traditional understanding of Human Resources departments become outdated? Are these departments even necessary anymore? Is there a real understanding of what the purpose is and why they exist in the first place? I have been reflecting on these questions lately- sparked by my own experiences with HR and recent news stories. A quick Wiki search produces the following basic definition: A human-resources department of an organization performs human resource management, overseeing various aspects of employment, such as compliance with labor law and employment standards, administration of employee benefits, and some aspects of recruitment and dismissal.
It’s Time to Redefine Human Resources
That definition is great in theory, but how often do staff members (misguidedly) treat the department as workplace therapy, venting, complaining, crying and tattling? I will be the first to admit I have been guilty of some of these very things myself. Work can be frustrating, and sometimes you need a shoulder to cry on, that shoulder, however, should not be HR’s.
When I started my first “big girl” job, my mother stressed to me that HR isn’t this third-party entity that you’ve envisioned, they are in fact employees of the company you work for and have been hired to protect the company, not necessarily you. The system was created to ensure organizations comply as needed to avoid legal retaliation. Maybe that’s a bleak idea of HR, but it’s important to be realistic. There is an episode of the TV comedy, “The Office,” (if you’ve never seen it, do yourself several favors and binge it) where the character, mild-mannered HR Manager Toby, reveals the “filing system” he keeps for Dwight’s never-ending complaints against Jim. It’s a trash box.
It’s Time to Re-Adjust Human Resources
Depending on the company’s dynamics, some HR Departments wield mighty power, but in many cases, they are merely the fall guy/gal, the unfortunate messenger of bad news or the puppet of upper management. If you’ve ever worked in a small organization where the founder, owner or long-standing leader is still present, they, a lot of times set the tone, despite the HR department’s best efforts to be even-handed and fair. Sometimes it’s the company’s culture that is to blame.
In this era of #MeToo, we’ve heard far too many stories of women (and some men) who have filed complaints (sometimes multiple times) of sexual assault, harassment, discrimination and abuse to their HR departments, years before the stories finally breaking and making news. The women went to HR, and nothing was done. I wonder how many cases were the HR representatives actually unable to do anything? How many times did HR’s procedures tie their hands of a timely resolution? How often were the complaints determined not to be serious?
It’s Time to Rethink Human Resources
The advent of tech start-ups and small businesses warrant a great need for HR. Brilliant minds who create popular apps, don’t always understand the importance of benefits and onboarding processes. We need to change the entire scope of HR departments. First, departments with just one person for a staff of over 70, is ridiculous.
Better feeling employees make better decisions and have healthier workplace relationships — which would only help the bottom line.
How are they expected to get anything done? HR departments should have an employment legal expert (part-time or full-time), a person to break down what is and isn’t legal. This person could also manage ethics within the organization. There also needs to be a benefits specialist. Just because someone is good at recruiting doesn’t mean they can handle the nauseating details and constant changes in benefits. Nothing is worse than asking your HR rep to explain your benefits better and have them provide you with a daunting booklet consisting of charts and an 800 number to a helpline. Recruiters are needed, of course; there is a science to bringing in the best candidates. Finally, would it be such a horrible idea for companies to offer actual therapy to their staff? Onsight, or vouchers to outside mental health clinics. I would even welcome mindful meditation options. Better feeling employees make better decisions and have healthier workplace relationships — which would only help the bottom line. This is of course if the company can afford it, but with the exception of small businesses, in most cases, I’m sure they can.
We do not need to get rid of HR teams. However, if they are just figureheads paralyzed by aggressive C-Suite bullies and an abundance of time-consuming impromptu “meetings,” if they are incapable of communicating the benefits provided to staff, do not understand the law or the nuanced optics and low morale that can be the result of lackluster results or no resolution for actual complaints, what is the point?
It can be said that stubbornness is a trait of people in the Midwest. While growing up on a farm in South Dakota, stubbornness came out in sticking to the status quo or weathering whatever unexpected situations came into our path. In farming, there are many more elements that are uncontrollable than controllable, so maybe this sense of being stubborn comes from this lopsided formula.
The same can be said for certain patients, especially the ones who are trying to survive or recover from a major health issue. Stubbornness shines in their never quitting. Never giving up can be a good form of stubbornness.
In both cases, being stubborn plays a role, but it is not an enduring trait. Farmers know that they must adapt to be able to survive. From crop rotation to using satellite technology, farmers have put aside their stubbornness and embraced change. The same can be said of patients. To recover, they listen to clinicians and physical therapists, trying new approaches to gain their lives back. Learning, trying, and persevering tamp down stubbornness, and life-changing and life-survival adaptation prevails.
Stubbornness in the Workplace
In our workplaces and communities, we encounter those stubborn leaders. We may point to entrepreneurial situations in which we say that, if it was not for the entrepreneur’s stubbornness, the venture would have never succeeded. We point to community and political leaders who stick to their positions no matter what, and we say how principled they are.
The reality is that we are substituting stubbornness for the real virtues of patience, perseverance, courage, learning to grow, and changing to thrive. Stubborn entrepreneurs rarely succeed. Stubborn political leaders lack moral courage and, eventually, fail.
Negative Side of True Stubbornness
The negative side of true stubbornness creates barriers at every turn and delivers missteps at great costs.
When their ideas are the only ones worth considering, stalemate turns to dis-innovation, market share loses, and employee disengagement.
When conversations drag on, repeating ground already covered many times before, the objective becomes wearing everyone down rather than getting the best ideas on the table.
When an organizational culture remains stagnated, change is sought by employees going to more progressive and intention-based companies.
Stubbornness is not a leadership virtue. It is a leadership failure.
The Audacity of Stubborn Leaders
Stubbornness is not a leadership virtue. It is a leadership failure.
How do we ensure that we do not become that stubborn leader?
In many ways, there is an unsubtle difference between being stubborn and leading with the virtue of perseverance, patience, courage, and growth. The gap is wide.
Just think of it in this way. The best ways to describe stubbornness is bullheadedness or obstinateness. Some will fool themselves and think stubbornness is being tough-minded. They are only fooling themselves. Stubbornness is simply self-centeredness.
Preventing Stubborn Leadership
To avoid being stubborn, apply these instead:
To persevere, it takes a strong leadership philosophy, which means a willingness to alter direction or practices to achieve a common good goal. Preventing stubbornness is then knowing what the greater purpose or common good is and then working with others to determine the best options, plans, and way forward. If these actions do not describe what you are doing, you may be stubborn.
To be patient, it takes a sense of timing. Patience is not waiting your turn or stalling to get your way. Patience is taking the time to combine the right mix of thoughtfulness with action. Being patient is a mix of strategy, action, metrics, and a willingness to adapt. If these actions do not describe the way you are leading, then you may be stubborn.
To be growth-oriented, it takes an attitude and behavior to drop certain beliefs and engage better ones. Having a growth mindset means always learning while converting what is learned to new actions. Being a growth-oriented leader is not for the faint of heart nor is it superficial. Individuals know when you are just talking about growth or change with no growth or change. Be real and substantive. If you are doing things the same way this year as you did two years ago, you may be stubborn.
When you have an inkling of stubbornness, replace it with fortitude. Fortitude is strength of character to navigate difficult situations with grace and courage. In our society, we are missing grace and moral courage. Fortitude grows in strength as new information is absorbed and new collaborative energy is untapped. When leaders incite this type of fortitude, positive change materializes. Fortitude gives us more than survival; it releases momentum to thrive. If people around you are timid and worthy initiatives are often scrapped, you may be a stubborn leader.
Be a Persevering, Patient, and Growth-Oriented Leader
How do you avoid being a stubborn individual? Be a leader who demonstrates real perseverance, patience, growth, and fortitude. Be a leader who avoids using stubbornness as an excuse for having a backbone. A real leader has the backbone of perseverance, patience, growth, and fortitude. Stubbornness is just a self-importance crutch.
Focus on the bigger mission. Adapt to achieve the greater mission.
My parents were 100% correct about at least one thing in life: time does indeed move faster the older you get. As long as any one day may seem, weeks and months always fly by.
I used to find it entertaining when older folks would talk about their younger days, if only because I felt immune — immune to the acceleration of time. Now when I hear my grandparents reminisce about their 20s, I get a little anxious. I’ll be in their shoes much, much sooner than I think I will.
Stop Wasting Time
As my perception of time accelerates, I also become aware of just how temporary time is — my time, to be exact. I say this not to be depressing, but to be observant.
If our time is moving so quickly, and if it is constantly running out, so to speak, I think we best not waste it. But what does it truly mean to “waste” our time? Are all “wastes of time” simply overindulgences in certain pleasures, like sleeping too much or spending all day playing video games? Or can a “waste of time” be something more than that, something more impactful?
I’d like to share with you a couple of realizations I came to about the two biggest sources of truly wasted time in my life.
Anger That’s Out of Proportion
I have been, at times, an angry man. I’ve been prone to moodiness, road rage, and day-long grudges should an offense be great enough. I’ve gotten upset when someone cuts me off in traffic. I’ve gotten unduly frustrated when social plans didn’t go my way. I’ve had to walk away far too many times following an argument because I was afraid I might say or do something I might come to regret.
But as I think about time, about the universal clock ticking away seconds of my life, I have to wonder if getting upset — or if having a temper, even — is worth it.
Of course, I’m human after all, so I can’t expect to stay level-headed in every single situation. Sometimes, getting upset is a natural and normal reaction. However, I think the extent to which I have sometimes gotten upset — relative to the offense that spurred my temper — has been lopsided.
It must be remembered that getting angry is just a reaction, nothing more. Anger is a response to frustration that solves nothing, and it isn’t meant to. Remaining angry longer than one needs to accomplishes nothing positive, but it does, however, stress you out. Stress, when abundant in your life, is terrible for both mental and physical health.
Prolonged anger also hurts those around you, particularly if it’s directed at a close friend or loved one. There are few worse feelings than a multi-day cold shoulder from someone whom you love. And though it’s a bit dramatic to consider, what if something terrible happens to the loved one whom you’re ignoring? What if their last impression of you is anger and silence? What has your temper accomplished in that case?
I’ve made a conscious effort to no longer get more upset than any given situation warrants. Doing so lends no utility to my life. If anything, it saps valuable time away from my life that could be better spent forgiving, loving, or compromising.
Getting Too Caught Up in What Others Think
“Nobody really cares.”
This is a piece of advice that’s been given by grandparents and older relatives for decades. Personally, I think I always understood what it meant on a conceptual level; likewise, I agreed with it — in concept.
Most people are indeed too busy with their own temporary time on this earth to care much about what you’re doing at any given moment. This, combined with the fact that most people have relatively poor memories, means you don’t really have a concrete “impression” to uphold. As long as you act normal 85% of the time, people will see you as such.
However, when you’re a young adult in the golden age of social media, it’s one thing to understand the concept that nobody cares, and it’s another thing to try and live by it.
But since cutting out most social media (another waste of time that falls in the “overindulgence” category), I’ve tried to take to heart the phrase “nobody cares” a little bit more. I’ve tried to both understand it and put it into practice.
That doesn’t mean that I now neglect personal hygiene, etiquette, or general social norms. I still want to fit in, after all. But, as a naturally anxious person, I’ve tried to remember that the little things aren’t worth worrying about.
Nobody notices that you’ve worn the same shirt twice in the same week, and if they do notice, I doubt they judge your whole life based on that occurrence. Awkward moments and minor slips of the tongue happen every single day to pretty much everyone. People tend to be pretty understanding (and they also tend to forget about the whole thing in a few days’ time).
As I see it, to most people outside of your loved ones and very best friends, you’re basically a side character in the movie that is their life. Sometimes you pop up on-screen and provide something valuable or interesting, but most of the time you’re off-screen and mostly forgotten about.
There are many things to worry about in life, but I’ve come to find that worrying about the impressions others have of you is a bit of a waste of time. Obviously, combating general anxiety is a little more complicated than a change of mindset, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.
What Wastes Your Time?
What issues or struggles in life waste your valuable time? Keep in mind that it’s all subjective — perhaps you don’t have issues with anger or social anxiety. Or perhaps you do, but other personal struggles consume more of your time and energy.
Identifying the major time-wasters and taking steps to address them are the major keys, I think, to optimal living. We all deserve to have a bright outlook of our time left on this earth, one free from the needless distractions that waste our time.
One of my favorites is a lesser-known film from about 25 years ago entitled Dave. Kevin Kline stars as Dave Kovic, the owner of a temp agency who makes money on the side as an impersonator of President Bill Mitchell.
When President Mitchell has a stroke while hooking up with a woman (not his wife) and falls into a coma, Dave is co-opted into a national ruse and begins imitating the president for real.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie includes a speech Dave gives where he announces a comprehensive jobs plan. He talks about the dignity and respect a person feels when they finally get a job. And what it means to have a job which makes you feel like what you did mattered in a given day.
This vision of work is one I think every leader must embrace.
Great Leadership Matters
It’s kind of insane to drill the job of a leader down to one thing. If there is one job of a leader, it is to add value and serve those on their teams. In some organizations, though, leaders punt this responsibility to other departments.
A robust HR team can convince a leader that their most important work as a leader – creating an environment where people can thrive in their jobs – is someone else’s responsibility. Let’s be clear – I’m not saying a leader can guarantee everyone will thrive because they are not in control of that. However, in some places, no one can thrive because the environment makes it impossible at worst or just insanely difficult.
4 Things Leaders Can Do to Help Their People Thrive
So, how does a leader create an environment where people can thrive?
Build a cohesive leadership team. Create clarity. Over-communicate clarity. Reinforce clarity. I’m sensing a theme here.
According to Lencioni, politics, sideways-energy, passive-aggressive conflict, apathy and many more symptoms of an unhealthy culture can be linked to a lack of clarity and a dysfunctional leadership team.
Everyone in the organization is looking to the leader(s) for clarity. What matters most? Why do we exist? What’s important now?
Fighting for clarity is a battle worth showing up for every day.
2. Exterminate Politics
It’s a big challenge for people to meet and exceed their job requirements. In a rapidly changing world with higher expectations, more competition and less margin for error, everyone feels the pinch. Stress and pressure are assumed and expected.
But, in an environment like this, adding the need to posture and play political games on a daily basis feels like a no-win scenario.
If leaders can fight for clarity, the need for politics goes down.
While we cannot always treat everyone the same, we can be honest, transparent, and clear in what we’re doing. Trust begins with the leader going first.
Lencioni notes, “If the team leader is reluctant to acknowledge his or her mistakes or fails to admit to a weakness that is evident to everyone else, there is little hope that other members of the team are going to take that step themselves.”
Politics begins to recede with leaders who tell the truth, even when it hurts.
3. Cultivate a Servant Culture
In the business sector, Chick-Fil-A, Ritz-Carlton, Southwest Airlines, and Zappos have all been recognized for the great lengths they go to serve their customers.
But it’s not enough to serve your customers. Servant cultures include serving those you lead within the organization.
Take Frank Blake as an example of this. Blake called himself the “accidental CEO” when he was tapped to lead the struggling Home Depot.
He transformed Home Depot by introducing what he called the inverted pyramid.
“The right way to look at this is me on the bottom,” he said. “My job here is to clear away the things that get in your way.”
Blake spent seven years as CEO of Home Depot. On a regular basis, he left his office and walked the floor of stores to learn about the challenges team members were facing. His hunger to serve them and make their experience better communicated more than a video memo or even a small raise would.
Who doesn’t want to come to work when that’s the culture from the top down? (Or in Blake’s words, from the bottom up).
4. Honor Others
In the movie I mentioned at the top, Dave Kovic has a vision for work which dignifies and honors people in a life-giving way. Surely, he knows work is far from perfect, and leadership is challenging and painful. But, he sees a way to honor everyone as people; each one in a different role but with the same value. I’ve heard many leaders state that “respect is earned, but honor is given.” We can honor even those we don’t like, respect or admire. Honor isn’t only reserved for those with big titles and corner offices.
As leaders, we must do our best to honor others, to treat them as we would want to be treated. People are not a commodity; they’re living, breathing souls. They hold immense value. As the old saying goes, “Use things, not people.”
Where does HR fit into this?
I’ve loved several of the HR specialists I’ve worked with and gotten to know over the years. They love their work and their giftedness astounds me. In a healthy organization, with leadership who desires to serve their people, they execute and compliment the vision and work of the leadership team. They do the daily work which leads to awards like “Best Place to Work.”
In the best scenario, HR monitors and ensures the thriving experience of every team member. Yet, employee satisfaction and retention cannot be the concern of someone else and off the leader’s radar if they want their organization to succeed.
The leader cannot do it all, but if they don’t do this at all, nothing else will make much difference.
A discussion ensued suggesting that while listening is important, listening isn’t enough.
It reminded me of a personal experience.
When Listening Isn’t Enough
Last year, my father received a heartbreaking medical diagnosis. When he met with a specialist to discuss treatment options, he brought along three other people — my aunt, who is a nurse, me and my husband. He was following advice from many friends and family members. Because of the emotions involved and the technical language used, it’s a good idea to have someone else there to listen when you are receiving challenging medical information. We all figured, if one person is good, three people are even better. So we packed into the exam room and waited for the doctor and his nurse to arrive.
The appointment lasted almost thirty minutes. The doctor was informative, kind, patient, and thorough. My dad came equipped with questions to ask the doctor about his diagnosis, and we all paid close attention as the doctor shared about treatment options. All four of us listened closely, and I even took notes.
I was amazed when a few days later, as three of us were discussing the appointment, we all had different recollections of a few things the doctor said. We called my aunt to see what she heard and got still another version of the conversation.
It was clear we had all been listening. It was clear we had all formed opinions about what the doctor said. But we were not standing on common ground.
Though my father asked questions about his disease, none of us asked the doctor follow-up questions. None of us sought clarification. We all listened, but then we all processed the information individually. We all heard and then digested the information using our personal filters.
Sometimes, listening isn’t enough.
Everyone carries baggage through this world, and that baggage affects us. Our experiences and opinions color everything we hear, whether we realize it or not. We all have biases, preconceived notions and prejudices. We see and hear the world through a very particular, very personal filter. That’s what makes communication so darn difficult! Even when we listen carefully, we don’t always hear accurately.
Take a Moment to Clarify
In a highly-charged or emotional conversation, our biases filter every word. They set our thoughts down different paths and bring to mind past experiences that color what we’re hearing. When allowed to run amok, our filters influence our understanding and can adjust how we hear the things others say.
Asking a question to clarify that we understand what we think we’re understanding, is a simple but effective way to ensure we’re on the same page.
That’s why follow-up questions are vital. Even when we listen carefully, paying close attention to what someone is saying, our personal filter causes us to hear something the other person isn’t saying at all. Asking a question to clarify that we understand what we think we’re understanding, is a simple but effective way to ensure we’re on the same page.
This, I suspect, isn’t a new concept for you. It sure isn’t for me. It’s a lesson that I’ve been taught several times in my life and still struggle to learn. True confession: Sometimes follow-up questions feel unnecessary to me. I have a propensity for believing I’m bias-free, I’m an excellent listener, and I have a flawless memory. Why would I need to clarify? I hear you.
But often I don’t.
The most-effective, though occasionally tedious, remedy is using a clarification follow-up question. It’s the time-honored conversation staple, “What I hear you saying is [fill in the blank].” It gives others the chance to help you hear what they are saying accurately. Of course, these magic words only work if after you say them, you stop speaking and give your conversation partner an opportunity to correct you if you’re wrong or affirm you if you’re right. Oh and, you have to listen again AND believe them.
A Step Toward Common Ground
Effective communication is the first step toward common ground. Both parties have to be willing to do the hard work to achieve it.
I wonder if we had used the “What I hear you saying” technique when we were sitting in that exam room with my dad, our recollections might have been more in line. Thankfully we had access to the doctor to get clarification. Thankfully we used follow-up questions when we did. Thankfully we’re all on the same page, and my father is undergoing treatment and doing well.
On the path to common ground, it’s easy to be tripped up by our personal filters and believe our biases. Even when we prepare for common ground conversations, adjust our expectations, and listen carefully, there can still be hiccups. Taking the extra time to get clarification means that even if you don’t agree with what the other person is saying, at least you can be sure you heard them accurately.
In a day and age where student loans are the new norm for many who want to go to college, entrepreneurship is evolving into a riskier avenue for those who are thousands of dollars in debt to lenders. Fortunately, balancing entrepreneurship and student loan debt can be done.
Balancing Entrepreneurship and Student Loans
According to the United States Federal Reserve, as of 2018, the total student debt is $1.48 trillion, which averages about $40,000 per person and this number is steadily rising year after year. So, what if you owe more than $40,000? What if you owe more than $100,000? Is becoming an entrepreneur still possible? The answer is yes! With some planning and strategy, you too can balance your student loan debt and your dream of owning a successful business.
Develop A Repayment Plan
Preferably, you will want to start working on a plan for paying off your student loan debt long before your graduation day, but it’s never too late to start building a strategy to repay that debt. Thinking about student loans will naturally raise anyone’s blood pressure and send them into a possible panic attack, but having a detailed plan combined with goals to reach will turn anxiety into motivation.
Gather the Numbers
This is the scary part — getting all of the paperwork together and calculating the exact amount of student debt you have accrued.
Get the Facts
Whether your loans are through a private lender or the federal government, call to inquire about all of the possible options you have to repay your debt. For federal loans, you can read about possible options and apply for different payment options on your account at myfedloan.org.
Establish a Game Plan
Now that you have all of the information you need, you can develop a solid game plan for paying off your student loans.
By developing a game plan, paying the student loans becomes less ambiguous and more manageable. By creating goals to meet along the way, you will keep yourself motivated to achieve your ultimate goal.
Develop A Business Plan
Whether you plan to organize a Sole Proprietorship or a Corporation, before investing any money, you should develop a business plan that aligns with your Repayment Plan. A business plan is not only a strategy for developing the foundation for your enterprise, but it also acts as a roadmap that will guide you through the first few years of your business.
Within your business plan, you will include a Financial Plan that will allow you to calculate what your start-up investment will need to be, how much money you will need to invest weekly or monthly in the first year and will provide you will a goal to eventually break-even.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Many entrepreneurs will tell you to dive into your new profession as a business owner head first, but with monthly student loan payments to make, every cent counts. If you can start your business as a side job while keeping your day job, you will have a much better chance of not defaulting on your loans and keeping your overall stress level lower.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, it can difficult to follow your dream when the cloud of student loan debt hangs over your head, but with the right strategy, it can be done. Before thinking about starting a business, make sure you have a solid repayment plan in place so that you can pay off your student loan debt in a timely manner. Then before you invest in your new business idea, develop a business plan so you can have a clear idea of what financial obligations are required for the business. Finally, don’t quit your day job until you can meet your financial obligations through your business. By following these simple steps, you can become a successful, debt-free business owner.
Founder and Owner of White Whale Web Design, Martin is an entrepreneur who believes that by working together, we can achieve great things. Inspired by leaders such as Simon Sinek and Richard Branson, Martin’s purpose is to inspire others through Website Design, Development and SEO Management. Martin is also a general aviation pilot and remains active in the general aviation community.
Ethical choices may not hit us every day. We cruise along, thinking all is well or ignore the elements that seem annoying. In our cruising along, we begin to put a bubble around us. After all, we feel safe in our world of “all is well” and “looking the other way.” Within our bubble, we are making ethical choices, whether we want to admit it or not. We are choosing who we follow, what courage we exhibit, and what imagination we embrace.
No one is perfect. However, imperfection still requires us to review a track record.
What courage do we have to stand up to leaders who continue to take the ethical low road?
Can we step back and view the bigger picture impact of what individuals do or do not do?
Each question gets to the root of follow ethics, moral courage, and moral imagination.
The first element – follower ethics – raises the thought of how others can let unethical actions happen. Many ethical case studies involve people who were asked to do work that crossed an ethical line or supported someone who crossed lines unchecked. Followers have a responsibility to hold others and themselves accountable.
What I know is that finding a job with our integrity intact is better than finding a job with our integrity shattered. We need to plan and act accordingly.
I realize that it can be challenging to leave an organization or a boss when finances are thin and job uncertainty stares back at us. Shame on the leader for putting us in that position, but now we need to decide what to do next and at what cost. What I know is that finding a job with our integrity intact is better than finding a job with our integrity shattered. We need to plan and act accordingly.
Another option is to be a counterpull. In an interview, Ira Chaleff, author of Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do Is Wrong, used guide dogs as an example of “intelligent disobedience” because they will do a counterpull to prevent someone from going over the edge (McDonald, 2015). Followers need intelligent disobedience to avoid getting themselves and others embroiled in bad ethical decisions and actions.
Intelligent disobedience requires a strong dose of moral courage, which leads to our second element. Johnson (2018) describes courage as an emotional strength, an inner compass that guides us to refuse to put our values aside and, most importantly, to act contrary to an unethical direction and set a better example. Given this, we may need a solid mix of emotional intelligence and ethical intelligence.
To gain ethical intelligence, we need moral courage. Equally, moral courage needs ethical intelligence to know when to stand up. Keeping and strengthening these two is vital for leaders, especially in how leaders develop, encourage, and recognize followers who demonstrate both.
The combination of moral courage and ethical intelligence seems to come together under moral potency by adding the element of ownership. Moral ownership means individuals believe that they are extensions of their organizations and, as a result, they have a greater moral obligation to act ethically (Johnson, 2018). Moral ownership helps prevent self-centeredness and focus on a greater purpose.
Moral imagination is the third area that resonates. Moral imagination encompasses other perspectives and explores ethical dimensions of situations (Johnson, 2018). In too many situations, it seems that individuals get themselves into trouble by being too in the moment, unable to step back and view a situation from different angles. Patience may be an attribute needed to enable better moral imagination and prevent making unethical choices.
We do not need to cut corners, but we need the ability to look around the corner to see how our ethical choices may unfold. Visualizing ahead on each of our critical decisions will help us make better ethical choices. You can be successful and ethical.
Ethical Choices: Reflections
In reflection, I consider the strength of my own moral courage while thinking about how to strengthen the moral courage of my team. A good leader needs good followers, and good followers can keep a leader accountable by taking counterpull actions. Moral courage is a team effort and an organizational culture necessity. Using the idea of moral imagination can bolster the leader and follower by taking the time to consider the different perspectives of a situation or decision.
To discern our ethical choices:
We need to remember our ethical and moral responsibility as a follower.
We need to find practices that bolster our moral courage and provide us an ethical bank account in order to walk away when all else fails.
We need to find our patience to take a wider view of situations and understand how certain actions impact a future we get excited about or want to avoid.
Ethical leadership is an individual’s responsibility. Whether follower or leader, we are never off the hook. Bad ethics carries a big cost. Good ethics carries a culture of individuals gathered to do good works in the best way possible – with moral courage and imagination.
Johnson, C. E. (2018). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership casting light or shadow (6th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.
We all have to make decisions every day. Small things, like what to eat or what to wear, medium things like the direction of a project, and the really big stuff, like what kind of career we want to have. Add in a healthy dose of uncertainty, a desire to ensure our actions match our intentions, and a world that seems to get more and more absurd with every news cycle, and it’s no wonder that many of us feel overwhelmed or even paralyzed as we attempt to make the best decisions for ourselves.
Big decisions, at least for me, are the hardest ones. What do I want for my career? Where, and how, do I want to live? What kind of relationships do I want to have with my family and friends, and how do I plan for the future? These questions can keep me up at night, wondering what the right move is, or terrified of the consequences of a wrong decision. Furthermore, these aren’t the sort of things that I can decide once and then be done with. We all need to continually commit to the decisions we make, do the work that matters to support our vision, and be willing to pivot when things don’t line up with what we truly want.
A Simple Exercise for Finding Personal Clarity
Whenever I am feeling stuck or uncertain about a particular area of my life, I use this simple exercise to gain greater clarity about what I want (and don’t want) for myself: the must-have and deal-breaker list. Taking the time to sit down and write out a list of what you want and don’t want, in a particular area of your life, can be an incredibly powerful exercise in clarity.
Now, this isn’t about The Secret, putting positive vibes out into the “universe,” or conjuring your dream job/relationship/living situation, etc. out of thin air. It is a clarifying exercise to help identify what is truly important to you, and to make decisions based on your vision for your life.
Let’s use the example of job searching and career planning. This is an easy example for me. I made exactly this kind of list at the start of my job search a few years ago. It allowed me to know that I was making the right decisions, both in turning down positions or stepping away from interview processes where there wasn’t a great fit, and in accepting a role, confident that it was the right choice for me.
My must-have list included things like:
A high degree of autonomy in how I manage my time and workload
A role that would involve complex problem solving
Opportunities to spend a lot of time writing and editing
A clear and defined path toward career advancement (both in skills and compensation)
Working with a highly collaborative team
My list of deal-breakers included:
A commute longer than 45 minutes each way
A boss who took themselves too seriously or always acted like the smartest person in the room
Working for a micro-manager and/or frequent interruptor
Working with team members who think of junior employees as beneath them
A role that involved a high proportion of maintenance/uncreative work
Notice that these list items are all about me—my vision, my wants, my ambitions. They have very little to do with any particular job or workplace. We should all mine our previous or current experiences and learn our lessons from them. However, if you do this exercise yourself, I’d encourage you to think more broadly than just about what you would change in your current circumstances. If you are constantly reacting, you run the risk of bouncing from one unideal situation to the next, and losing sight of what is most important to you.
Observing Must-Haves and Deal-Breakers in the Wild
This exercise can help you focus on what is important to you, to be proactive instead of reactive, and to move closer to the vision you have for your life.
Now, it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to walk into a job interview (or decision-making process), and be able to sit down and run through your list of must-haves/deal-breakers like a checklist. When I was interviewing for my current position, I couldn’t just ask my prospective boss if they were an egomaniac, or if they thought people in junior roles were inferior to them. But I was able to look for signals that helped me to evaluate them—and having my must-have/deal-breaker list close by helped me direct my attention and questions to uncover those signals.
Throughout the interview process, I could see that my potential employer valued my time and opinions (they started our first interview asking what questions I had, instead of launching straight into their own). They didn’t take themselves too seriously (a few self-deprecating jokes go a long way in my books). And that they consistently treated everyone they interacted with respectfully (they were kind and courteous to the waitstaff at the restaurant where we met in person). The role was virtual/remote, and I’d be able to set my own schedule (autonomy? Check. Short commute? Double check). I was 100% willing to walk away from the process if my needs hadn’t been met, and so delighted to eventually accept the position, confident that it was the right move for me.
I invite you to try this exercise today. Pick an area of your life where you’re feeling unsure about what path to take, pull out a notebook, and start thinking about what is truly most important to you. Refer back to your list as you navigate through the complex decisions that you need to make each day. Do you have what you truly need? Is there something that feels unacceptable? This list can help you have the courage to pursue what matters, and to walk away from things that detract from your happiness. We live in a noisy, complicated world—and this exercise can help you focus on what is important to you, to be proactive instead of reactive, and to move closer to the vision you have for your life.
Whenever I hear the term work-life balance, I imagine myself astride a horse. Free and enraptured in childhood joy, but totally in control of something huge, powerful, majestic. In fact, my understanding of this buzzword all began when my company paid me to ride a horse as part of new, flexible company policy.
Policies that Promote a Healthy Work-Life Balance
I will share more on this flexible policy, as well as some others that can work to drastically improve your employees’ work-life balance with small, but important tweaks to your existing policies and structure.
No Spreadsheets Allowed: Funding Personal Development
Feed your employees’ souls and passions, and they’ll fuel your bottom line.
Professional development is innate to growth in any role. You need skills and tools to continue exceeding in a company, so it’s not surprising that many companies offer a bucket of funds devoted to developing professional skills. This is a great incentive, and really, who doesn’t want to be a Level II Certified Excel Ninja (with prowess in pivot tables)? Asking for a friend.
By offering your employees a company-funded personal development fund, you can show them that their happiness and growth as an individual matters too. Remember about my being paid to ride a horse? Here’s where that comes in. I didn’t get a certificate. I didn’t make a single spreadsheet. But I did feel invigorated, renewed, and I started approaching my life and my work with that energy. Every single aspect of my life improved, and my work was never stronger for that company. Bottom line? Feed your employees’ souls and passions, and they’ll fuel your bottom line.
Another approach I love that embraces employees’ passions is to help them give to organizations they care about. Set aside a charitable giving budget, and make donations to your employees’ favorite charity, in their names.
In Control vs. Controlled: Offering Flexible Hours and Scheduling
One of the easiest ways to give employee morale a boost is to offer more flexibility and freedom in their schedules. With the internet and project management tools at our disposal today, there’s far less need to tether your employees to the drudgery of a required 9 to 5 in the office. Giving your employees the option to work remotely, even a few days a month, can significantly improve job satisfaction. Offering flexibility in the hours employees choose to work is empowering, imparts trust, and helps them feel more in control of versus controlled by work.
Susan in Accounting Will Love You: Using a Singular PTO System
Paid time off, sick days, vacation — these are various name tags stuck to buckets that all hold essentially the same thing — days off work. You can extend trust and also simplify your operation by giving your employees a single bucket of paid time off (PTO) that they’re responsible for managing.
Do As I Do: Demonstrating Healthy Work-Life Balance From an Executive Level Down
Finally, your employees are watching you. So if you want to embrace a healthy work-life balance in your company fully, you need to be living it yourself, and not just saying it with a confusing, sidelong wink at the end. If you’re the last one to leave the office and send emails from bed or during vacation, you’ll inadvertently teach that behavior.
The trust you extend your employees by giving them freedom, flexibility, and worth in the form of flexible workplace policies, can help them feel balanced and deeply committed to your company.
Jeni Rogers is a researcher and regular contributor to TrustRadius, where she shares her knowledge of the latest trends in B2B news and software.
In the last discussion of my doctorate leadership ethics class, a challenging question was posed: How can we develop organizations and institutions that support good leadership? Equally important, how can we develop organizations and institutions that do not tolerate bad leadership? From my perspective, moral courage is the answer, but how can we teach and encourage moral courage within our place of work and community?
What is Moral Courage?
What is moral courage? One definition is provided by Lopez (as cited in Cramer & Schwartz, 2015): “Moral courage is the behavioral expression of authenticity in the face of discomfort of dissension, disapproval, or rejection” (p. 706).
Some individuals may be good at being authentic in the face of disapproval, but many are not. I know that I have not been the best example in being completely authentic in challenging conversations. We do not want to hurt the feelings of others. More to the point, we do not want our own feelings hurt or have our beliefs questioned. However, if we let things slide, good leadership slides with it.
Moral courage weakens without when we skip our authenticity in times of discomfort.
Moral Courage: The Struggle of Business and Society
Moral courage is something that business and society have struggled with for many years. Combining leadership and ethics may need a more philosophical turn. Kant used a phrase of “ought implies can.” What this mean is if we are able to act for the greater good, then we have the moral obligation to do so. Free will says we have the ability, so why don’t we see more evidence of moral courage in business and society today?
A moral evaluation of leadership can be summarized by a leader’s intentions, the means in which someone leads, and the results of what a leader does (Ciulla, 2005). Intentions, means, and results serve as a method to measure the moral courage and ethics of a leader. These big three also serve as moral and ethical reflection points:
What will be the results, and how will they create good conditions?
Some may use their past as an excuse for not standing up or for leading in an immoral way. When reviewing our own early or formative years (or someone else’s), certain behaviors can be linked to our upbringing, but these experiences should not justify or condone bad ethics (Price, 2008). Closed mindsets and excuses erode moral courage further.
Price (2008) suggests that rule-breaking is the ethical connection in both leader-centric and group-centric situations. What I take from this is that good leaders know their past and then change in ways that deliver a better ethical result. Additionally, good leaders need to understand group dynamics and then change the group when actions have the potential to go off the ethical track. Good rule-breaking can bolster moral courage and create better leadership (and prevent bad), but rule-breaking needs to be evaluated in a clear situational context, intentions, means, and results.
How Do We Develop Moral Courage?
The next question is “How do we develop moral courage in both leaders and followers?” After all, moral courage is needed in both.
Ray Dalio, founder and CEO of Bridgewater Associates, may provide a direction. In a podcast interview, Mr. Dalio talks about the importance of honesty and highlights how he has built this into their organizational culture. What he encourages is communicating honest thoughts, working through the disagreements to make the best decision, and determining a way to work through any remaining disagreements (Dalio, 2018). Having open, honest, and resolution-oriented conversations with no retribution is a foundation for moral courage and supporting good leadership.
Cramer and Schwartz (2015) outline ways to better teach ethics, including highlighting leaders who serve as solid examples. In my experience, reading biographies of business and political leaders enable us to learn what built, sustained, challenged, and enabled good character. We also learn about failings and how to not repeat those mistakes.
Another place to explore moral examples is in novels and literature. Good stories bring us in and experience how characters interact, lead, solve, and become better individuals. Whether in fiction or nonfiction, we need good moral examples to strengthen and keep our own character and ethical bearings.
Fictional Short Stories
Beyond moral examples, fictional stories serve as a way to explore situations and how human beings deals with them. Cramer and Schwartz (2015) point out how short stories provide a start and a climax, so the stories are concise and emotional, getting to the crux of a situation quickly. Story-based interactions of life encourage reflection and understanding. We may relate to the stories of others in real life and, in the process, encourage our own deeper thoughts and better actions in our self-leadership development.
Whatever our means, moral courage needs to be fostered to produce better results.
Moral Courage: Our Imperative
Moral courage empowers good leadership, and it challenges and, potentially, prevents bad leadership.
Building an organizational culture and community that encourages better leadership practices and prevents bad leadership actions requires moral courage. Moral courage begins with training and conversations on how to foster and enliven it. From here, it continues through actions that encourage honesty and how to work through disagreements to gain better decisions.
Moral courage empowers good leadership, and it challenges and, potentially, prevents bad leadership. Moral courage and good leadership pair well together. Now, it is our responsibility to find our inner moral courage and express it diligently and respectfully in our work and community.
Ciulla, J. B. (2005). The state of leadership ethics and the work that lies before us. Business Ethics: A European Review, 14(4), 323-335. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8608.2005.00414.x
Comer, D. R., & Schwartz, M. (2015). Highlighting Moral Courage in the Business Ethics Course. Journal of Business Ethics,146(3), 703-723. doi:10.1007/s10551-015-2919-3
Extra: Ray Dalio Full Interview [Audio blog interview]. (2018, April 8). Retrieved May 1, 2018, from http://freakonomics.com/podcast/ray-dalio/
Price, T. L. (2008). Leadership ethics: An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.