I read a great post today by Seth Godin titled Bullying is theft. Seth is a great and prolific writer and he used a term that I want to explore: irrevocable principle.
His point was if we want to eliminate bullying in an organization, we need to treat the problem like what it is, theft. Without assigning the practice to an individual we simply need to judge the practice for what it is and decide how we’re going to treat the practice when we are confronted with it in our organization. His assertion: bullying is theft. It steals resources from the organization and costs everyone unnecessarily. The cost is greater than the theft of property. The cost is measured in people.
The end to bullying starts with a question: does senior management see the cost? If so, the next steps are painful and difficult, but quite direct. Bullies can’t work here.
He went on to state once this decision is made, once it becomes an irrevocable principle, the organization will do the things necessary to align with that principle.
Practically, organizations have a hierarchy of principles. Your organization may have values, core values, core-core values, and unspoken rules. I’m aware of organizations that have a clearly-stated hierarchy of values. They operate by core values. Their actions align with their words. They make sure to adjust behaviors to support, reinforce and embody their values.
Other organizations only have unwritten values and principles. Some organizations have a single irrevocable principle, make money. Below that may be a few others like “make money in a particular industry” or “don’t do anything illegal,” or “make money and be a good citizen.” In those organizations, creating a new irrevocable principle like “Bullies can’t work here” is nearly impossible.
The concept of irrevocable principle comes back to character. Who are you? What is the character of your organization? Do they align? Are you able to align them? I know you’re able to influence the values of your organization. Do you? Are you a positive influence? Do you personally operate by stated irrevocable principles? Are you aware of the hierarchy of your principles? Do you see any hypocrisy in the way you tell people your principles are ordered and the way you live your life?
Irrevocable principles make up our character. They define who-we-are. And character-based leaders lead and live from that “who-they-are.” People and organizations who act according to clearly stated, easily understood, congruent irrevocable principles are attractive. We grant them the opportunities to influence us. We give them authority over us. Are you that type of person? Is your organization that type of organization? If not, are you ready to do something about it?
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