I have written this series using the allegory of a sailor sailing rough seas, and encountering Dragons, as depicted on those old nautical maps where the untraveled cartographer needed an excuse for his cluelessness; and I have offered thoughts about the ways to defeat those Dragons using the analogies of recognisable weaponry that might have existed in an age of Dragons.
I have had fun finding titles for this series (the “Dragonslayer” Series!) and have enjoyed the personal exploration it has afforded me. I have been challenged, as I wrote it, that perhaps I have not always exemplified the ideal I have sought to describe; that I might have contributed to some issues and I have luckily also been able to look back at my own conduct and say at times: “Not too bad, old chap. Not too bad.”
However, as I said, perfection is not possible in this world, and it is good to reflect also on some personal characteristics that can have a positive outcome on workplace dynamics. I would like to encourage firstly myself, but also all of us guardians of culture and/or leadership development, to seek excellence in a few core areas and to be able to set an example. These are not obviously corporate, and they do not have the fingerprints of motivational speakers or HR guru’s all over them. There are enough blogs and bloggers rushing off to do that on every new wave of thinking and buzzword that pops up. This is me and my thoughts, and it is personal. But I humbly hope it is helpful.
A little reflection may offer ways in which these characteristics can hugely advance our cause as HR Practitioners. These characteristics are not only good for us, they are generally regarded as good universally, so perhaps we can effectively contribute in some way towards a better corporate culture through our own excellence in these areas.
This also assists with objectivity, and sometimes with defusing conflict; unfortunately it is often poorly understood. It is not false humility – which is pretending to be of lesser significance or value than one really is. True humility is having a right view of ourselves. It is correctly seeing our strengths and weaknesses, not being defensive, not being aggressive – or establishing worth out of comparison. Surefooted. An example. If Bill Gates says “I am the richest man in the world” he is simply being factual, and the statement and the heart behind it could as easily be very humble, as it could be proud. Perhaps he is not measuring his worth by his bank account; perhaps he is honestly commenting on his unparalleled ability to serve others with his unparalleled wealth? He is seeing his situation rightly. Often the interpretation we arrive at is a result of our own bias.
Humility means we receive input and find the personal growth areas in every situation regardless of how unpleasant the message is or how much we struggle with the messenger (Marriage and the workplace are a good workout for this skill 🙂 ). We must never miss an opportunity to be better today than we were yesterday.
Humility means we make our case kindly and without bringing others down. We do not win through victory, we win through better relationships. This is not always an easy one, as it means sometimes deferring the short term quick-fix for the longer, higher road.
Grace is the ability to extend undeserved goodwill. The power of grace is that it is counterintuitive and surprising. It disarms. It releases. Offers. Opens. Smiles. And honours the potential in others to be better, without coldly exacting punishment for current shortcomings.
It is covering over another’s mistakes, sometimes just because. It is forgiving, when everyone around you would regard “tit-for-tat” vengefulness as a completely reasonable response. And surprisingly, we are often least gracious with ourselves. We need to be gentle and kind to ourselves, especially when we feel the weight of responsibility or perhaps of failure. We need to stop being our own worst critic and see our situation rightly.
But grace can also – and sometimes must – come to an end. Recently I came to the point where I had covered over another person’s issues too much, and it had become counterproductive and even manipulative because of the perceived freedom from consequences. I was being pushed into a corner. Things needed to be exposed, and of course, when they were, the proverbial then hit the propeller. This leads us to…
This is always worth pursuing to the death. We should never give up our integrity for any reason, ever. Especially not for a short term victory. Integrity doesn’t just mean truth. It means consistently aligned behaviour. Truth is fundamental to integrity, but it is only the first part. Our words and behaviour; our motives and our intentions, need to align consistently over time. Integrity is built and maintained long term, not overnight. However, like trust, it can be lost in an instant.
Integrity is also about the high road. Consistently aligned negative behaviour does not equal integrity. That is more like sociopathy…
When we speak difficult things, or call people to account for challenging and unpopular issues, integrity is our surest foundation. No lies. No deliberate misinterpretations. No half truths, no stretching of interpretations. Just strong, solid ground underfoot.
Words have power. Great power. To build up or to bring down, to unify or to divide. To hurt or to heal. To bring justice, or to perpetuate injustice. We use words in emails, in conversations, everywhere. We underestimate both their power in the moment, and their longevity in the hearts and minds of all who hear them.
When my son was 3, he got bullied at Kindy by an older bigger kid, and I said to him if he could not find an adult, it was OK to defend himself and hit back. I have never been allowed to forget that comment, especially when he perceives a upcoming threat from his siblings, and decides that Daddy’s words from 2 years ago make it ok to “hit them back first”. No matter what I do or say, it seems I cannot shake those words, buried deep in his sense of right and wrong.
We, do not have the latitude to be loose with our words. No manager does, but for the CEO and the HR practitioner, the requirement to be circumspect, wise and considered is paramount. We ALWAYS represent the employer, even if we have no intention of doing so. If our corporate email signature is at the bottom of the email; if it comes from a company server or is on a company letterhead, we are representing the employer and we need to have our game on.
…Vision and Influence
We need to see beyond the now, beyond the tumult of the moment to the bigger, longer term picture. That is particularly taxing at times, because it can easily and often mean we subvert the comfort of a quick victory now for a longer, harder but more honourable outcome. Letting go of comfort is a vision thing. It is realising the need for temporary discomfort, and that means understanding the “why”. Often that turns into uncomfortable, or stretching advice given to our managers, which they may even resent us for.
So be it. If we understand the ER risks correctly, and if we can see the corporate trend accurately, then taking a stand for what is best for the company, even if – especially if – it is not popular, is always the right thing to do. As long as truth and integrity are not compromised.
We need to see far ahead, and be able to communicate what we see. That is the role of the influencer. And we need a track record of balance, of wisdom, of selfless integrity so when we make a big ask of our team, they know from whom it comes. We should not ask of others what we have not already asked – and delivered – of ourselves. If we ourselves cannot subjugate the comfortable options in favour of long term benefit, we cannot really ask others to do it…
When we measure up in these areas, we can stand in confidence that as bad as the winds might get, and as rough as the seas may be, we are at peace with our work and its consequences, and we have done right by ourselves and by those who trust our expertise. Its a good place to be.
And those Dragons? Well, if we have beaten the one living inside us, the rest are easy pickings.