Monday, May 5, 2014

In Good Repute

Life is not about what you can get away with.

To get ahead, on the job, with friends and even within your family, you should follow certain basic ethical principles.

Kathryn Tuggle summarizes them in a new column. She gleaned them from a relationship management consultant named Eric Schifter, but, hopefully you know them already.

It should be fairly obvious that no one has ever lied his way to the top, but Schifter explains, more importantly, that you cannot tell one person one thing and another person another thing.

Consistency counts in business. Colleagues, co-workers, bosses and employees need to know that your words mean something. If two of your colleagues discover that you have told each of them something different, they will conclude that you are two-faced.

If you learned in college that words never really mean what they say or say what they mean, demand a refund. Anyone who follows that amoral principle will end up dysfunctional, unemployed and broke.

And then: do what you say! When you promise to do something, deliver it, ON TIME. Otherwise, Schifter say, you will lose everyone’s respect. Worse yet, if other people need your input to do their jobs you are messing with their time. You will develop a reputation for being unreliable and untrustworthy. 

Respect, once lost, is very difficult to regain.

If college taught you different ways to make excuses for handing in assignments late, it has taught you a very bad habit.

As a corollary, don’t call in sick unless you are really, really sick. And don’t take a vacation day when an important project is due.

You must show your commitment to the job and you must show that you know how to function as part of a team. If you sacrifice the good of the team for reasons that appear self-indulgent, your career prospects will suffer.

And then, of course, you should treat everyone with respect. Everyone means everyone, from the receptionist to the janitor to the CEO.

If you try to assert your importance by talking down to others, everyone will understand that you are trying to cover your own lack of confidence.

By now you know that when you are invited to have your job interview over lunch, your prospective employees will be noticing how you interact with the waiter or the busboy. You do not have to be best friends with the staff, but if you disrespectful, curt, condescending or dismissive you will not be getting the job.

And finally, take personal responsibility when something goes wrong. Do not shift the blame. You should do so even when you are not entirely to blame.

If others bear some responsibility, it’s for them, not for you, to say so.

It’s about being part of a team, but it’s also about exercising leadership. Leaders are responsible. Followers are not.

Tuggle summarizes the point:

When you're quick to point the finger at others, it makes you look like you're not only separate from the team, you're actually working against the team. This can lead to resentment from colleagues and may mean that people no longer want to work with you on any major project, she says.

When a mistake is made that's not entirely yours, take ownership, even if it hurts to do so, says Tom Gimbel, president and CEO at LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing firm.  

"Whether a co-worker had a typo in a project you spearheaded, or there was a mistake in a presentation a colleague proofed, take accountability. No one wants to be thrown under the bus," he says.  


David Foster said...

"A chief is a man who takes responsibility. He does not say 'My men were defeated,' he says 'I was defeated."

Anonymous said...

Then how come so many two-faced weasels get so far in business an politics?

Anonymous said...

"It should be fairly obvious that no one has ever lied his way to the top"
Clearly politics is excluded from that analysis.

Lastango said...

"It should be fairly obvious that no one has ever lied his way to the top"

I wish that were true, but I know many who have. In fact, that's a feature, not a bug. They would not have gotten to where they are otherwise. Perhaps that's because, on their way up, their fellow liars in gatekeeping roles screen them for a willingness to do whatever it takes to win, by any means necessary. It is often institution-wide; ferinstance, no one in a key position at the New York Times would be there, or stay there, unless they're willing to do what they did with the Duke Lacrosse case. (One wonders how they sleep at night. Perhaps their ceaseless cacophony and glittering self-celebration is a form of lying to themselves that drowns out their consciences.)

When done by folks in the corporate world, lying is intermingled with other forms of abuse, manipulation, and posturing. But I find it is still distinguishable in it's pure form in shareholder and investor communications, sales & marketing literature, budgets, strategic & operating plans, and proposals of all sorts. It is rampant in high-sounding, H.R.-influenced justifications for bigoted and politically expedient corporate policies.

In the fascist/crony capitalist sphere (a cancer which has spread to every part of the American system) we see it in the likes of the ethanol scam. Every major claim made by its perpetrators is demonstrably false. It is an act of theft, perpetrated against the citizenry, and every single participant and enabler knows that. But these are rich people, and they have friends everywhere. They won because they knew what they wanted, went after it, and got it. They lied from the get-go, and at every level -- about the details, the science, the overall purpose.

I love to work with ethical people, and delight in discovering the true depth of their inner strength. The corporate thugs are indistinguishable and become a blur in my memory, while the good people burn bright across the years. But at the top, people with character and integrity seem outnumbered and out-networked by the ruthless careerists and profiteers.

Ares Olympus said...

re: "And finally, take personal responsibility when something goes wrong. Do not shift the blame. You should do so even when you are not entirely to blame. If others bear some responsibility, it’s for them, not for you, to say so."

There's good truth here, but also some confusion. There's two directions of failure - taking too much responsibility and taking too little.

The word "blame" itself perhaps contains the confusion which is different than responsibility. For example, I can take responsibility for miscommunication, for failing clarity and confirming understanding, but blame implies something more.

When I feel "blamed" by someone else, I consider it is my duty at minimum to identify my failed responsibility, what changed action would have lead to a different outcome. If I can do that, I feel better, and I hope my accuser will see I take the failure seriously.

But that de-processing of failure is harder when there's co-responsibility, like when I'm sure I didn't have enough information to do something right, then taking responsibility by pretending I could read someone else's mind might help defuse the conflict, but won't help me do better next time.

I've wondered HOW to hold other accountable for their failure, and I consider from when I was in positions of authority specifically, and basically concluded if someone promises to do something, then I have a right to ask if it was done, so I wouldn't be showing self-respect if I take someone's word, and then let them off the hook without at least admitting their failure to follow through.

But then there's the word "promise" - if I say I'll take out the trash, without a deadline, and I think that means within 24 hours, and you think that means within an hour, then that's miscommunication if you call me out on something that was ambiguous.

Overall from my experience, maybe from the PA world of Minnesota Nice, people don't like conflict, and so when it erupts the problem isn't what happened, but all the dozen little annoyances that were ignored along the way that makes people overreact, overblame, and want someone else to feel bad for an honest mistake, rather than just needing a problem to be acknowledged.

So I think rules of "good character" are helpful, but that's just the surface, and the real work is "assertiveness skills" where you can discuss problems without blaming, without needing others to feel bad for your anger to be satisfied.

Anonymous said...

Kipling's poem "If" contains some of this advice in dramatic style.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

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