“Adversity doesn’t develop character – it reveals it” – Unknown (but smart) author.
Our integrity is (Fundamental Principle 10),
Our conscious decision and discipline to own our values and principles and to hold ourselves accountable to them.
Most of the time we will think through how we will act in a situation, and when our actions conform to our values and principles our integrity shines – it is reinforced. This “thinking through” is what Daniel Kahneman refers to as relying on System 2, our slow thinking mechanism.
Upon occasion, however, adversity strikes, a crisis arises, and we react intuitively. In Kahneman’s framework, we are depending upon System 1, a more intuitive mechanism. When we go with the intuitive system, how we act often reveals hidden or “sleeper” values and principles. These are the ones that we don’t realize are there, but they are strong enough to govern our behavior and are an integral part of our character that is revealed under adversity. Here are some supporting stories for this unintended consequence of Fundamental Principle 10.
True Character and Values (including the “sleepers”) are revealed under adversity when
- Interacting Cross-culturally: This story has stayed with me since our time living overseas: An Arab diplomat is in conversation with an American diplomat: “We understand that for you Americans the truth is very important. What you don’t understand is that for us Arabs the truth is also very important, except when saving face is more important.”
- How many times have we “bent the truth” in order to “save face,” only to stand by the truth (or our version of it) when it is someone else’s face that is going to be sacrificed? “Saving face” is an American “sleeper” value, and not as open and upfront as it is in Middle and Far Eastern cultures.
- Misleading by example when supposedly Leading: Rob Parker (who is black) makes racial remarks about Washington Redskins (black) quarterback, R W Griffin III, live during Parker’s ESPN commentary on December 13th, 2012.
- Misleading by example when not Leading: “A 60-year-old business executive accused of drunkenly slapping a 2-year-old and referring to him with a racial slur has been fired, according to a statement issued Sunday by his company.”
- The executive was actually the president of the firm. The incident took place while on a Delta flight into Atlanta on February 18th.
- Trying to Lead by example when Leading: The division I was running was in the middle of the cooling-off period leading up to a unionization vote. Tensions and impatience were running high. When I was leaving the plant one of the more vocal female hourly employees was entering the building by the same door. She began a rough tirade against “white male management,” which I assumed included me. Also playing a role in the entire situation was the fact that our facility was 80% ethnically diverse, and this woman had become a vocal spokesperson by virtue of her ethnicity (Native American) and her strong attitude in standing up to authority (she admitted to carrying a lot of baggage due to childhood abuse by her extended family). Her technical work performance had never been an issue. The following is the conversation that ensued:
“Howling Wolf (not her real name), did I choose to be white?”
“Did I chose to be male?”
“Then it seems to make sense to me that you cannot judge me or criticize me for anything I did not choose. Did you choose to be Native American?”
“Did you chose to be female?”
“Then I cannot criticize you for those things that you did not choose. However, if you choose to behave at work in a manner that endangers product quality or safety, customer satisfaction, or worker safety or morale, then I not only have the right to bring it to your attention, but I am obligated by my responsibility to the company, employees, and customers to do so. And if you find that you do not agree with how the company is being managed, you know because of our communication meetings that you have the right to come bring it to my attention and I will be glad to discuss it with you. Do we understand each other better now?”
- That was the end of our encounter, the last verbal exchange between the two of us before the vote. However, I did detect a significant improvement in her general demeanor with everyone when we saw each other in the plant. Incidentally, the vote failed.
- Misleading by professed values (slogan or mission statement): Oh, pick any company whose mission statement differs from what we actually see them doing.
- “To understand a company’s strategy, look at what they actually do rather than what they say they do” (attributed to Andy Grove, quoted in BW, May 3, 2012).
- Leading by example when actually Leading: Abraham Lincoln fighting to pass the Emancipation Proclamation, portrayed in the film, ‘Lincoln.‘
- Leading by example when down and out: “Donations pour in for homeless man who returned diamond ring.” A woman emptied her coin purse for a homeless man, not realizing she had placed her engagement ring in it for safekeeping. He had kept it for her and returned it when she later located him. Donations accruing for him on an internet site amounted to $95,000 by February 23rd.
- This should be a routine occurrence, returning something of value to a rightful owner, but it is so rare that it makes headline news.
A common thread running through these stories seems to be that “sleeper” values pop to the surface to control behaviors when instant gratification or reward (for oneself) is preferred over doing what professed values indicate is right (for the communal good). To cement this in our minds, here’s one last story:
- Letting Your Inner Jerk Out When You Think It Won’t Be Noticed (i.e., No Witness, No Sin): The article “Stop! Lunch Thief!” articulates the distraught feelings that result when co-workers fail to observe common rules to respect office refrigerator contents (and their labels) by stealing somebody’s lunch. It’s the Tragedy of the Commons, a theory dating back to 1968, in action. The author, Clare Suddath, suggests renaming the theory to People Are Jerks, and does mention one approach to lunch theft that appeared to work.
How often does our Inner Jerk (“sleeper” values) slip through our Integrity and crimp it?