Competence, Commitment, and Character

“Cash is kind” was the CFO’s favorite go-to line when vetoing spending requests. The CEO always agreed.

Therefore, over time, "make money" became the company’s informal mantra. Over time, company culture changed too. Ethical corners were cut. Legal lines were crossed. Compliance became the norm, as did cutthroat competition. Money became the only yardstick by which success was measured.

Along the way, compassion, empathy, and character, the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual became less important. If the greater good couldn’t be quantified in a cost benefit analysis, it wasn’t important.

Ever worked at a place this money-centered or maybe sneaking up on it? They’re pretty soulless places.

Many have written about the soullessness of economic-focused corporations. The cold, economic logic that defines what’s done. The greed and ruthlessness. How employees lose their individualism and become mere cogs in the wheel of making money. How making a profit is the mission.

"If you are a boss, ask yourself: When you look back at how you’ve treated followers, peers, and superiors, in their eyes, will you have earned the right to be proud of yourself? Or will they believe that you ought to be ashamed of yourself and embarrassed by how you have trampled on others’ dignity day after day?" ~Robert I. Sutton

If you want to make certain you and your workplace don’t lose their soul and can bring dignity to yourself and to work:

 Don’t let reasonable self-interest turn into greed. Hang onto generosity, reciprocity, and ethical commitments.

 Be kind to yourself and others, always being mindful of the rights, feelings, and interests of others. Research by Jonathan Haidt at New York University shows that employees who are moved by the compassion or kindness of a boss are more loyal.

 Walk the talk of honesty, integrity, fairness, compassion, charity, and social responsibility.

 Lead by both/and: challenge the status quo through constructive dissent, respectful irreverence, and purposeful discomfort.

 Start with the carrot, not the stick.

 Appreciate the power and possibility of differences; don’t marginalize those who see things differently. As Robert Kegan, a developmental psychologist, observes:

“Successfully functioning in a society with diverse values, traditions and lifestyles requires us to have a relationship to our own reactions rather than be captive of them. To resist our tendencies to make right or true, that which is nearly familiar, and wrong or false, that which is only strange.”

 Balance getting with giving, doing with being; occasionally look for the bluebird, take in the sunset, smell the roses, share with dessert.

 Make a good difference. As Warren Bennis tells us,

“The leader never lies to himself, especially about himself, knows his flaws as well as his assets, and deals with them directly. You are your own raw material. When you know what you consist of and what you want to make of it, then you can invent yourself.”

 Define success by both tangibles and intangibles. Don’t favor one over the other.

 Display competence, commitment, and character, and hold others accountable for doing the same.

 Know when to be confident and when to have humility, when to speak up and when to be silent.

Aristotle wrote:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

 Keep his twelve virtues as close companions: courage, temperance, generosity, magnificence, magnanimity, right ambition, good temper, friendliness, truthfulness, wit, and justice.

Deciding to get right with competence, commitment, and character starts in our own heads and hearts, so whether there’s leadership with or without soul starts with us.

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. ~unknown