Archive for the ‘integrity’ Tag

Inglorious Leadership

I’ve written in the past about the hard part of being the boss, the dark side of being ‘in charge’. Making hard decisions for your team, even sacrificing some personal dignity for the greater good of the organization can feel pretty bad and take a toll on your spirit. But there’s another dimension of the dark side of leadership that has been mercifully rare in my career: helping to make hard choices for someone else’s team.

My role often includes unenviable tasks, such as delivering bad news to executives, and bringing a tempering influence to ill-considered proposals. But I do not normally have to be involved in the emotionally-charged decisions other leaders have to make with regard to their employees. I’m thankful that most of those get dealt with by HR, not by me or my Legal team.

But given my tenure of 18+ years, the odds were against my lucky streak lasting and today the streak broke. And because the universe does nothing in my life by half-measures, it broke twice in the same day. First, I got stuck in the middle of a disagreement between two leaders of separate functional organizations over appropriate crisis management communication and had to play peacemaker in order to break the stalemate. Then, one of our senior executives asked me to participate in the process of disciplining a colleague, another senior leader in a different department who is my peer and someone with whom I frequently collaborate.

Neither occurrence was particularly traumatic. Both were handled respectfully and with tact. Still, the tension and angst produced by unexpectedly having to participate in adversarial process within my own organization was intense. In a way, it speaks pretty highly of my colleagues and our company that this was the first occasion when circumstances required this type of intervention by me. Even discounting the first ten years of my career with this company in which I was an individual contributor staff attorney, it is remarkable that in the last eight years in my various leadership roles I have never been called on to address similar tensions.

Yet, despite that positive spin on this rarity, I can’t help acknowledging that the experience was unpleasant and unsettling.

Mediating disagreement is familiar. It’s part and parcel of negotiation and deal-making. But the nuance that makes this different in my mind is that the stand-off occurred between people who are supposed to be on the same side, people with whom I’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder battling back the forces set against our company’s interests. Witnessing these same professionals square off with one another struck a clanging, discordant note in my otherwise harmonious working environment. Finding myself in the middle between them, having to work hard to persuade them back to cooperating for the good of the company, forcing me to be a decision-maker where I normally only advise, was wrong on every level. It tested parts of my leadership skill set in ways I never expected.

Then I was called upon to not merely provide constructive feedback about a fellow leader, but to essentially provide testimony that would be used in a decision making process that could potentially end in my colleague’s dismissal. That was a singularly uncomfortable conversation. I found that it tested my ability to balance candor with tact and honesty with empathy. Ultimately, it pitted my commitment to corporate interests against my instinct of loyalty to a friend.

And that’s the dark side of being a leader, of being in a position to counsel and influence. Maintaining your personal integrity – not taking an “easy” way out to avoid discomfort and conflict, not compromising truth for the sake of placidity even if it means someone you like suffers the consequences of their actions – that’s the gritty, indecorous, inglorious aspect of leadership.

I’ve faced it plenty of times with respect to my own employees and my own department. It wasn’t fun, but I understood it to be a necessary part of leading my organization. And in those instances I could bear the discomfort because it was, at its core, constructive and finite. It felt ten times worse today because the issues weren’t with my people and my lack of control over the tension made it hard to feel confident that it was constructive or finite. Instead, it felt like being an accidental witness to a private argument or a tender moment between strangers – wrong and icky.

Thankfully, the warring colleagues called a truce and returned to being collaborators, working the problem instead of pointing fingers. Also on the plus side, the executive evaluating my colleague for discipline committed to giving them an opportunity to improve before termination. It’ll be a lot of work in a short time frame, but it’s a genuine chance to save their job.

So the peacemaking and critiquing has a valuable purpose. My uncomfortable lesson in painful workplace growth was worth it.

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Something 

So I told myself that posting something, anything, once a week is a realistically achievable goal. Then…life happens. I’m still technically on time, seven days since my last post. But I have nothing composed and profound to say. And I still, inexplicably, have the notion in my subconscious that I have to have a substantive, meaningful, professionally-composed something to say in order for a post to have worth. 

I know this instinct comes from a good, well-meaning place. It comes from a strong work ethic. It comes from respect for myself and for my readers. It comes from the belief that leaving a place (even a virtual place) a little (tiny) bit better than you found it is a blessing and a duty. It comes from a desire to be a better me, a better writer, every day. 

But all that pressure to be erudite and profound inhibits spontaneity and, to a degree, creativity. So instead of posting something genuine and fresh from my mind, I either get boring and pedantic, or talk myself out of it altogether. 

I don’t want to fail in my weekly goal on the second week, so this is my post. It’s…something. 

Listy Post

So I’m averaging once every other week instead of weekly posts since I set my goal. Bleh. I despise not living up to the standard I set for myself. It seriously irritates me.

But instead of dwelling on what I haven’t achieved, I’m choosing to reframe it as a step in the right direction: at least I’m posting semi-regularly. Yay for positivity!

To keep the momentum going, here’s a short list of the recent positives in my life:

  • I survived my conference and on-the-spot feedback was unanimously positive. I’m now working on putting everything into practice, both personally and within my team. That’s always the challenge: turn the mountain-top experience into daily practice. So far (a week out), so good. 
  • One motivational exercise we did during the conference was to identify a list of people we personally admire and the qualities they typify that we admire and wish to emulate. This list of qualities defines our personal standards of integrity. I have posted my list in my office as a daily reminder to live up to my personal standards. These are my personal standards of integrity and I will strive, today and every day, to be: authentic, honest, faithful, intelligent, a leader, kind, loving, selfless, generous, hospitable, compassionate, determined, hard-working, brave, courageous, teachable, resilient, friendly, open, and welcoming. 
  • It was a beautiful long holiday weekend here. I spent some quality time with my immediate family, rested a lot, and watched some odd movies. It was a nice break from a very stressful stretch of work. 
  • Had The oddly satisfying experience of having my windshield replaced by a mobile service in the parking lot of my work. I’m always fascinated by machines and technology. It was cool to see the lift the tech used to place the new windshield in the right spot. And, yes, I’m aware of how geeky that statement is. It’s just cool to see the right tools used in the right way to get a job done efficiently and well. 

So what are some positive things in your recent life?  I hope you’re able to focus on those and let the irritants pass you by. 

Integrity

So, the last Writing 101 assignment for the 20-day writing challenge is to write about a prized possession, breathing life into it with my prose and, for a twist, do it in long-form. 

I know the point of this exercise is to discuss objects, how they make me feel, the context & history. But, as this is the last post for the challenge, I think I’ll try my own twist on the prompt. I’m going to try to write about something that means everything to me. But it isn’t a physical object. 
For me, the most important thing I have is my personal integrity. It is the core of my being. It lets me live as stress-free as possible, knowing that I’ve done everything in my power to maintain honesty, peace and good will with the world around me. I can sleep, look at myself in the mirror, be still and at peace at the end of each day when I know I’ve remained true to my values and done nothing to compromise or cheapen my integrity. It’s the value, the worth, the treasure that I save at all costs and don’t trade for short-sighted, ephemeral gain. 
My personal integrity is my most prized possession and I feel it deeply when my integrity is jeopardized. 
I’ve been thinking about this for a while. There’s something that’s bothering me and, in my head, it is an integrity issue. But it’s not as straight forward as a matter of telling the truth or doing the right thing in a hard situation. It involves examination of motive, which can be tricky and complex. 
Here’s the situation and then I’ll get to how it’s an integrity thing. 
I have received my first negative comment on one of my posts, https://suddenawareness.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/what-is-butch-anyway/
The post is about my personal take on my own identity. And I took great pains in that post to address the fact that validity of any identity can only be determined by the person so identified, not by an outsider’s opinion. 
So this commenter takes the time to lament my delusion of being butch and masculine. He took the effort to give me a free (and unasked for) lesson on how my natural psychology as female (which he seems to think is the same as feminine) will always betray me, I’ll never achieve what I describe, and guys will never fully accept me, but they’ll kindly patronize my delusion of masculinity. 
Never mind that I am not trying to be a “guy” or that I do not wish to attract men. Somehow, he felt the need to instruct me on the error in my identity and the waste I had made of my time in writing such a long post about something I can never be. 
And by throwing in a token “Peace” at the end as an afterthought, I get the feeling that he would think me unsporting if I were to take exception to his male-privileged-skewed opinion on my identity. 
Infuriating. 
As you can tell,  I’m still peeved about his condescending, deliberately disrespectful by-passing of the point of my post in order to impose his views on my description of my own identity. 
But…and this where integrity comes into question…I have not approved the comment for publication to the blog. 
I’ve been letting it sit, cooling my own reaction, in hopes of looking at it objectively. If I’m calm, maybe it won’t seem like such a trollish, bullying intrusion into my space. Lulu, on the other hand, has advised that I approve it. She knows how I feel and why. But, she feels that since it’s his opinion, his view of his truth, I should not suppress it, but let others judge for themselves. 
I’m not so sure. 
Do I compromise my integrity by not giving all commenters their voice, even if I disagree with their message? If I only approve comments that praise and agree with me, is the integrity of my blog and my philosophy undermined? Am I unreasonably suppressing the free exchange of ideas by not publishing a comment that, I admit, hurts and enrages me? Do I have a duty to let all who read my blog have the ability to voice their opinions about my posts? Is it a copout to point out that this blog is my safe place for saying what I am unable to express out loud in the real world and, therefore, I should be free to admit or exclude whomever’s opinions I choose? Is that churlish and wrong?
The thing about integrity, like identity, is that only the person who wears it can justly answer those questions. 
That blows. 
I don’t have the answers. But I think the fact that I have the questions should tell me something. What that something is, I don’t yet know. It may be that my questioning is merely the healthy mental process of facing an uncomfortable aspect of maturity that will ultimately lead to a balanced resolution. On the other hand, it may be indicative of a flaw in the character of my integrity, showing that I m not as transparent and authentic as I believe myself to be. 
And, yes, it is probably unfair of me to talk about the comment without letting you read it. Maybe that’s the real integrity question.  For now, though, I am going to hang onto it, unpublished, and think more about why I don’t want those words, smacking as they do of arrogant derision, published on my blog. Is it just because they’re hurtful to me and maybe others? Or is it because I don’t want anyone who disagrees with me to have a voice in this space?
I don’t believe it’s the latter, but I don’t know for sure. 

A Lament (because venting prevents violence)

Gut-boiling, teeth-grinding, head-pounding anger is something I try to avoid at all costs.  It is impotent to resolve its cause and damaging on so many levels.  Ordinarily, I much prefer reasoned argument, persuasion, logic, compassion and active listening.  These things present better opportunities for peaceful, equitable resolution.  They are tools with purpose and utility, where blind rage and seething indignation is useless.

However, there are those times, thankfully rare in my life, when my sensibilities are so outraged, my logic and intelligence so affronted and my sense of justice so injured that such anger is the only response available to me.  Active, purposeful efforts to control emotion, maintain objectivity and professional decorum are unavailing against an avalanche of injustice.

This week has been full to bursting with professional injustices that have me overwrought.  I am so disappointed in the lack of leadership and support from my boss, a colleague I’ve so long respected and admired. This, I think, is the greatest blow of all that have fallen this week, that his heretofore unassailable logic, intelligence, professionalism, fairness and personal integrity are utterly absent. I expected to rely on him to provide guidance and a calming influence in this struggle, while supporting me and the decisions I have to make to manage my team. That is the role and duty of a senior executive. I have never before doubted his leadership and it is a bitter, burning disappointment to find cause to doubt in the midst of a storm.  I am angry…and sad…and frustrated that the vacuum of personal integrity of certain business leaders is condemning me and my team to a Sisyphean labor of futility.

Positivity and hopefulness have never felt so out of reach.

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