Right and Righteousness
Organizational leaders and, for
that matter, family leaders, occasionally appear to be blindly
wedded to or fixated on a certain decision, or certain course
of action. Our kids may call us stubborn, our coworkers may
call us single-minded or narrow-minded, but the basis of the
criticism is the same Ñ a tenacious focus on a particular
policy or direction.
Sometimes this comes wrapped up
in sayings such as, "I have faith that this is the right
policy" or "I believe in my heart that this is correct."
Despite the counsel of friends, the warnings of advisors, or
the carping of critics, the "I know Im right" approach goes
work, manifestations may include phrases such as "my way or
is certainly true that there is great power and great value to
the careful selection of a course of action and an unwavering
support to move towards a goal. This is, in fact, often a way
that great changes get made and implemented. Great changes
mean moving aside fixed views that may have been around for
many years. They may be enshrined in law, custom or accepted
religious, cultural or scientific beliefs.
Anyone who dares challenge this
existing paradigm is subject to skepticism and perhaps
ridicule, threats or worse. Certainly in the 16th century,
Martin Luther risked his life when he refused to back down.
Hundreds of years later, the noble spirit of Rosa Parks led
her to exemplify another model of sweeping change at great
personal risk. Instead of refusing to sit down, she refused to
stand up. Great changes are difficult to implement without
some degree of protection against those who easily criticize
but rarely stand up to lead or to offer hope.
However, there is a narrow
difference that can exist between the tenacious adherence to a
policy and an unwillingness to see the need to modify a
stance. At the micro level, you may not want your daughter to
stay out past midnight, but that cant be rigidly enforced
with a 19-year-old as it might have been with a
Things change, things evolve, and
any of us must be open to the circumstances that make policy
modification or personal behavior changes not only
appropriate, but sometimes necessary for success.
what point do we realize in local government that continuing
tax cuts just for the sake of tax cutting may look good and
may help in the election du jour, but may erode public service
capability over time? At some point those same anti-tax
protestors will repaint their signs and T-shirts to complain
about the lack of effective public service.
what point will local governments realize that maintaining a
municipal fire department in the current model with constant
demands for ever more pension benefits, workers compensation
"presumptions," and escalating salary and benefit demands will
become harmful to the rest of public service? When will these
issues merge to create the perfect storm of public policy
same can be said of many policy issues in the national and
local arenas, including the abysmal lack of a coherent,
consistent national health insurance policy, issues of local
growth control or the economy versus environment debate. At
what point do we rethink policies that we hold dear and admit
to ourselves, if not to others, that a change is in
Regrettably, for people that read
or write articles like this, there is not one particular
single prescription drug available to answer that question.
Having said that, however, here are some thoughts about when
the winds of change should be recognized. The first is when
even the people you trust most, the people who have shown
their loyalty, ingenuity and initiative in the past reach a
point where they have the courage to come in for coffee and
say excuse me, "Have you got a moment?"
"have you got a moment?" moment is a key time when someone has
something important, and maybe difficult, to express. This is
a time for acute listening and reduced talking by the
decision-maker. It is a time to appreciate that what may be
offered as criticism may really be a great gift to the
decision-maker who may otherwise not listen, or may not want
to hear a loyal voice of dissent.
portion of the Talmud says basically, "Find thyself a
teacher." It could also be read as "find thyself somebody to
talk to as a coach or mentor." Find someone with whom you can
sit down and say, with trust and faith in their loyalty, "I
have been following this path in the forest for many miles and
I am not sure whether or not I have lost my way." Thats hard
to admit and its hard to ask for opinions. But it is
essential that all of us do that. This is true whether we are
invincible teenagers or insulated presidents of major
Often our egos or the arrogance
of success that we have enjoyed through most of our lives or
careers gets in the way of being able to change a belief or a
course of action even in the face of compelling reasons. The
HR Doctor has often recognized hubris or arrogant pride as
"public enemy #1" when it comes to great and caring public
policy. We get in our own way. We are our own enemy when we
live in a world of self-centered narcissism.
best leaders are the ones willing to take counsel and, in
fact, actively seek it out and pay attention to it. That
certainly does not mean that you change your opinion every
time someone suggests that the wind is blowing this way today
or that way tomorrow. It does mean that you consciously and
repeatedly ask yourself as a leader, "Do I have the courage to
admit that there is a better way, that circumstances have
changed, and that my actions and beliefs may not have evolved
along with the circumstances?"
Finally, whenever a hard decision
confronts us, there is a great and joyful relief when we
openly acknowledge an issue instead of trying to hide it. When
we consciously analyze our course of action and make a
mid-course correction to a better path, there is a great
personal relief and renewal.
When we finally acknowledge that
a problem exists, accept responsibility for what needs to be
done, explain it to others in a clear and compelling way
without whining and without blaming, the result is that the
great weight of an elephant is lifted off your shoulders.
Freed from that lead-weighted back pack, we find that we are
able to make better decisions, to sleep better at night, and
be more joyful.
wonderful public administration readers and colleagues, take a
stand with courage and vision. Sit down or stand up as the
case may be, but dont be blind to the fact that you may be
right today under a certain set of conditions. Right should
not lead to and should not be confused with a righteous
inability to see and respond to change!
HR Doctor wishes you all the best,