I read a wonderful post today by my fellow blogger, BTG, about an American football coach who suspended his entire high school football team for demonstrating poor behaviour to others and showing a lack of accountability. You can read the post here.
It started me thinking about the great character paradox. As parents we all want our children to grow up being men and women of character and our messaging of the importance of character starts at an early age. Toddlers are taught not to hit, push or scream and to share and play nice with others. Later, we teach our children to be sociable, inclusive and respectful. As their journey through life continues we reinforce the “treat others as you would be treated” rule and the value of compassion, caring and helpfulness.
And then something happens. Some where along the way, the messaging that reaches our children’s ears seems to change, at least for those children that are destined for the corporate/business world. Whether it’s from peers, educators or society the volume control on the following increases:
- nice guys finish last
- the squeaky wheel gets the most oil
- who you know is more important than who you are
- you eat what you kill
- it’s all about the results and not the journey.
So, we teach our children to be adults of character and society and business rewards them for being anything but.
What if our business leaders were prepared to do exactly what this coach did to his team? What if our CEOs and senior managers were spilled for showing lack of character and had to earn their way back into the bonus pool?
Sadly, this Nirvana will never be reached in my life time, at least not in my industry. In business we continually confuse confidence with competence and build reward structures to promote narcissistic behaviour and traits. And what’s more, our company’s mission statements and internal policies do nothing more than add to the we value character rhetoric. Our children inevitably learn what is really rewarded and set out to play the game.
Show me a CEO who reprimands his top salesman for treating the office staff with disrespect and I will show you a man of character. Show me a managing partner who rewards and encourages team contribution over individual billings and I will show you a woman of character. I will also show you a more engaged and productive workforce.
The best managers I have worked for have all been people of character. These are the few who show us that we can still achieve by treating superiors and subordinates respectfully, by valuing human beings and by being accountable for our decisions and actions. They share and play nice with others, lessons learned in kindergarten. They don’t toot their own horn or spend their time brown-nosing.
It’s not complicated. Even a toddler can understand it.
Coincidentally, I received a flyer from my old high school today advertising an alumni lunch event around the topic “What Defines Success”. The speakers are all high profile individuals either alumni or parents of present students. By assembling these speakers they have already presumed a certain defintion of success. To me its just more of the same old.
Imagine if we could spill the corporate team and only rebuild it with those who demonstrate real character?
Imagine if character was not entirely optional for our CEOs and senior managers?
Kudos to the coach for spilling his team and taking the time to teach his young charges an important lesson. It’s a huge step in the right direction.