Yes, this is a business blog. But hang in with me – you’ll see why it’s relevant.
This past weekend, a friend shared a copy of The Paradoxical Commandments, written by Kent Keith in 1968, then a 19 year old Harvard undergrad. They are full of the paradox which Martin Luther King lived so purposefully and seeds for thought on how we mere mortals might fight our fears to make a difference on this earth. They are:
- People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
- If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway.
- If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
- The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
- Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
- The biggest persons with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest persons with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
- People favor underdogs, but only follow top dogs. Fight for underdogs anyway.
- What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
- People truly need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
- Give the world your best and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give your best anyway.
Because I have this constant need to look at ideas in the context of business (whether that’s a strength or weakness might be subject to debate) my brain quickly went looking for how such inspiration might be applicable to the workplace.
Two thoughts quickly came to mind: the stories we make up about why our businesses can’t grow, and the stories we make up about why our employees aren’t producing. Looking through the same lens as The Paradoxical Commandments, might there be a new opportunity for growth in our businesses or for creating a different relationship with our employees? Try these commandments on for size.
“The economy is barely growing.” Grow anyway. In trying economic times, it’s easy to fall into the trap of blaming a stagnant business on external factors. In fact, if one complains about the economic landscape they’ll certainly find plenty of others who will commiserate, wring hands, share their own sad stories. And those stories might be true. But what could happen in our businesses if we choose to defy conventional wisdom, eschew the media and stop looking for comfort from the cynics? Might throwing out big, overarching excuses force us rather to reinvest our energy in creative, innovative ways to grow? To get more disciplined about planning, about turning ideas into action, about holding ourselves accountable? Might we be willing to get honest about our own weaknesses and call in some cavalry to fill the gaps? Could we decide to grow anyway?
“My employees always let me down.” Expect excellence. Let’s start with the assumption that the first statement might be true. I believe in the adage, “you can only hire the people you deserve.” For me that translates to identifying what is it about me, my company, my processes, my idea, my expectations, my ____ (fill in the blank) that would make that statement true. Try it sometime; that exploration inevitably leads to important insights about hiring practices, leadership and management skills. But, for now, let’s assume your employees do always let you down. Where do we begin to solve that problem?
I think it’s by expecting excellence. We humans have a tendency to decide what the other party is going to say, how they are already thinking and what they believe, before the conversation even begins. We base those conclusions on past experiences and ignore the truth of the present. How often have you thought something like, “he always does it the wrong way” or “she never delivers on time” or “she always wants an argument.” There is big danger in the phrases “she always…”and “he never….” When we expect to be let down, we are, often because we’ve decided it already to be true. It’s a condition called “already listening,” as in, “I’m already listening for you to say what I know you’re going to say,” even when that person hasn’t yet uttered a word. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, because the other party knows that we’ve already judged the quality of their behavior and their contributions.
What might happen if we replace this already listening with an expectation of excellence? To expect that individual to give it their best, to bring their whole person to the task, to successfully complete what is expected of them? What if we define expectations up front, identify what success looks like, agree on accountability, reward results, and have frank, honest conversations with those who don’t live up to them in reality. What if we expect excellence before the work is done?
Develop a muscle for living up to these commandments. I guarantee growth.| Categories: Blog, Culture, Growth, Leadership
Tags: culture, growth, leadership, sales leadership, small business, values