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Leadership Comes With Responsibility

Thinking and Speaking

Words are like weapons; they can hurt you sometimes


My colleague Marty Lucas from ROCeteer published something recently that really struck me profoundly in light of a lot of events going on in our world right now.

His post – Opinion without the responsibility is an act of ignorance struck a chord with me. I started to ask the question of whether opinion without the responsibility is even more than just ignorance, maybe it is a disservice against society?

I have had a number of roles so far in my life where my opinion had the opportunity to have profound impact in either a positive or negative way.

I spent a number of years as a human resources practitioner and executive. I hold HR people to a very high standard. I have more than once referred to them as the conscience of the organization. The reason I do that is that one of the unfortunate decisions that gets made in organizations is who stays and who goes. Who gets hired and in the event of a “violation” or downsizing who leaves the organization on an involuntary basis?

Although decision is not made (or shouldn’t be made in a vacuum) management and leadership often looks to the human resources department to determine both whether or not the decision is correct or within the law, and more importantly is it right. To me the second part is more important than the first.

Rightness involves not just policy, precedent, and law, but the concept of fairness and application that is objective relative to things like a person’s age, gender, sexual orientation and a bunch of other factors.

I advise my clients to only hire managers and leaders who possess emotional intelligence and social intelligence as well as the typical IQ. I recommend they double down on this with their HR team. We don’t hire human capital, we hire and manage whole people. Leaders without empathy have no place in my organization no matter how smart.

I have evolved from my role as an HR practitioner and even a C level executive to practice giving my advice to clients as a management consultant and executive coach. In this role they are literally paying me for my opinion and I take that responsibility. I have tried to build two primary gates into any advice or opinion I give clients-

·         Do no harm. If my opinion or intervention has no potential positive outcome I simply withhold it.

·         Is it in this client’s best interest?  I am not a big fan of templates. There are some core ideas, beliefs and values that are embedded in the work I do, but I try to work with clients that share them rather than try to impose them on an organization. I also strive to create a unique solution for each client that works for them, not necessarily for me.

The last and perhaps most important role where I give my opinions is in my role as parent and mentor. I have participated in the development of two adult children and mentored a number of other people and have had to realize that my opinion matters a lot to these people. While it would never be my intent to impose my opinions on either group I undoubtedly help shape their opinions.

A number of years ago I ran for public office. It was twelve years ago and some social issues were more contested than what we see today.

A litmus test for candidates aspiring to the office I sought was their position on same sex marriage. My advisors suggested I follow the lead of the other candidates and not comment, but I was too stubborn to take their advice.

I told the interviewer that although I didn’t think my position on that issue was relevant to my candidacy I would answer it.

I told them as a former HR practitioner who wrote and enforced policies that prohibited discrimination about a whole number of things I couldn’t see my way clear to discriminating against someone because of who they love.

I also told them that I wasn’t smart enough to tell my children that same sex partners weren’t entitled to share their lives in the same way others are and that it wasn’t my right to say they care for their loved ones any less. I am not that smart.

As we know the Federal legislation that was passed demonstrates that the world hasn’t ended or other dire consequences we were concerned about haven’t emerged yet either.

I am not trying to impose my opinion on anyone else or suggest I am right and they are wrong if we choose to disagree, it is simply my opinion and I take responsibility for it.

A young woman I respect a great deal and I were chatting about the controversy surrounding one of our Presidential candidates and comments that were made and how members of their own party are distancing themselves and the passion and intensity of her response caught me off guard and frankly embarrassed me.

She essentially said “fuck them”. Her point that was when that candidate attacked people because of their ethnicity, beliefs, or sexuality the “party” looked the other way. The line wasn’t crossed until those comments could be perceived as repugnant to their daughters and wives.

It kind of reminded me of the famous quote attributed to the minister in Nazi Germany who pointed out that as “special” groups were systematically targeted no one said anything because they weren’t affected. And then no one was left to speak for us….

I want to be clear I am not condoning the behavior of one candidate over another or encouraging anyone else to do so.

I am just looking at the context of my friend Marty’s assertion that opinion without the responsibility is an act of ignorance applying it as my personal litmus test for leadership, both my own and those I support.

If you aspire to leadership, public or private you are responsible for your opinions, it comes with the territory. It has also been said that organizations, and I expand this to countries, get the leadership we deserve. Maybe this should be our wake up call…..


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