Archive for the ‘dignity’ Category

Guest Blog: Leading with Dignity in the Workplace

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

donna-hicks-152x200My work has brought me up close to leaders of all kinds. There is one thing they share: highly developed technical and intellectual capacities, many of them graduates of some of the world’s most prestigious educational institutions.

They also share something else; what many of them report as a major leadership challenge: knowing what to do in charged emotional situations. In spite of their technical expertise, they rarely feel confident when faced with subordinates who are experiencing outrage; who feel they are being treated unfairly; whose unacknowledged grievances have changed them into fighting men and women. In other words, they don’t know what to do when faced with people who have experienced repeated violations of their dignity, which are, by definition, highly charged emotional events.

Their default reaction is often to use their authority and the power of their position to control the situation, often leaving the aggrieved people angrier, more resentful, and less willing to extend themselves in their jobs or their roles within an organization. The dignity violations remained unaddressed, contaminating the work environment.

A reason why the default reaction is to exert authority and control over a volatile emotional situation is that they are afraid of it. They are especially fearful of being exposed and embarrassed by a bad move or a flawed policy for which they were responsible.

I have seen otherwise brilliant leaders get caught in all of the predictable traps that ignorance of how to best handle dignity violations creates. They are not bad people who deliberately try to make life difficult for those whom they lead; they simply don’t have the knowledge, awareness and skills they need to navigate through emotional turmoil. Without an education in matters related to dignity, a most vulnerable aspect of being human, even technically gifted and well-intentioned leaders can unknowingly create an undignified work environment.

The need has never been more urgent for people in leadership positions to be educated in all matters related to dignity; both the human vulnerability to being violated, and the positive effect it has on people when they feel seen, heard, understood, and acknowledged as valuable and worthy.

The emotional impact of treating someone well and honoring their dignity has benefits that are incalculable. It’s the easiest and fastest way to bring out the best in people. The opposite is equally as true: treat a person as if he or she doesn’t matter and watch how fast a destructive, if not violent, emotional storm erupts.

Leading with dignity means that leaders recognize this; that they are willing to embody what it looks like to treat others as valuable, to know what to do with people when they have been violated, and to know what to do when they have violated them. Below are some steps leaders can take to establish a culture of dignity in the workplace:

  1. Make a company-wide commitment to learn about the role dignity plays in establishing a healthy and productive (and profitable) work environment.
  2. Make a conscious effort to honor the dignity of your employees; both in everyday interactions and in the policies you create.
  3. Create a work environment where your employees feel safe to speak up about the dignity violations they are experiencing. Make it easy for them by inviting them on a regular basis to talk to you about ways that you or company policies may be unknowingly harming them.
  4. When it is reported to you that other managers and supervisors are violating the dignity of others, take action to address the situation. Make it company policy to take responsibility for the harm one causes others. No one should be above accountability.

There is no greater leadership challenge than to lead with dignity, helping us all to understand what it feels like to be honored and valued and to feel the expansive benefits that come from experiencing it. Employees yearn to see good leadership from their executives and managers.

They all knows how difficult it is for their leaders to take courageous steps that could leave them vulnerable such as overriding the need to save face by admitting to having made a mistake; stepping beyond what is safe and comfortable by apologizing for hurting employees; confronting a fellow leader who has repeatedly violated people; championing one’s employees when their voices are not strong enough to speak up to a failed policy that violates their dignity.

While we all recognize how difficult leadership can be, we still have the expectation that the title of leader means something. We want it to mean that by watching dignified leadership, we, too, can expect more of ourselves and not succumb to the all-too-familiar default mode of making excuses for not opting to do what is right.

Donna Hicks Ph.D., author of Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict, Yale University Press, 2011.  You can read more about the author and her book at http://drdonnahicks.com/

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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A Book Every Leader Should Read

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflicts

A little personal history:

In 1988 I took on the challenge of reinvigorating an historic university-owned hotel in the grip of a downward economic spiral.  The deteriorating physical condition of the property was an issue which could be fixed with time, attention, and money.  The larger problem was the need to improve the efforts of a demoralized staff.

Among my initiatives to address the hotel’s issues, I drafted a one page statement of standards – The Principles of Employee Relations – to guide the management staff in their treatment of employees.  The first principle I wrote was, “All employees will be treated with dignity and respect.”  Though the word “dignity” came easily to mind, I had no true idea of its import and its critical role in human relations – that is, until now.

Donna Hicks and a deeper understanding:

dignity-158x240Donna Hicks has given us a beautifully written and profoundly important book.  Her nearly two decades of work in international conflict resolution as an Associate at Harvard University’s Weatherford Center for International Affairs has provided her with a unique perspective on the dynamics of conflict.

Dr. Hicks has worked with such luminaries as Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and Harvard Professor Herbert Kelman on some of the world’s most intractable conflicts, the Palestinian Question, the Troubles of Northern Ireland, and the civil war in Sri Lanka.  Based on her extensive research, she has formulated a unique and keenly insightful New Model of Dignity which allows us to explore the essential role of personal dignity in human relations.  Her premise is that when a person’s dignity is violated, as it so often is in various personal and public settings, deep-seated resentments then lead to conflicts seemingly beyond resolution.

According to the author, “When we are treated badly, we get angry, feel humiliated, and want to get even – often without being aware of the extent to which these primal reactions are driving our behavior.”  Despite the impressive intellectual achievements of our species, our psyches are quite fragile and easily damaged by both real and perceived slights.

But, as Dr. Hicks says, “We do not deliberately hurt each other just for the fun of it.  We are often unaware of the ways we routinely and subtly violate each other’s dignity.”  To overcome this universal behavioral failing we must do three things:

  1. Become aware of the problem,
  2. Learn that there are ways to handle the problem, and
  3. Make the changes necessary to honor individual human dignity.

“If we continue to ignore the truth and consequences of [dignity] violations,” says Hicks, “we will remain in an arrested state of emotional development.”  This simple, yet far-reaching truth can cripple the progress of relationships at every level of human affairs.

The book’s structure:

In the book’s introduction, the author explains The New Model of Dignity and the theoretical research supporting her conclusions.

She then lays out the Ten Essential Elements of Dignity and in successive chapters discusses each element with examples from her conflict-resolution experience.

To further illuminate the dignity model, Dr. Hicks also posits the Ten Temptations to Violate Dignity, and provides anecdotal support, powerfully moving in emotional content, to reveal how people come to grips with assaults on their dignity and how they struggle to find resolution.

The final section of the book entitled, How to Heal Relationships with Dignity, is a potent testament to the healing power of identifying dignity violations, acknowledging vulnerability, and making a genuine commitment to honor the dignity of others.

Why is this important to business leaders?

Beyond the moral issues of honoring each person’s dignity – their basic human worth – there are important practical implications for the recognition of dignity in the business arena.

No business can operate efficiently or provide high levels of service to its customers without the willing commitment of its employees.  But the leadership challenges of achieving this commitment are significant.  As Roger Enrico, former Chairman and CEO of Pepsico said, “The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff.”

So what are we talking about when we speak of the soft stuff?  In short, it’s the “people skills” – those aptitudes, abilities, and relationship skills employed to assure the significance of each employee’s contribution.  It is the exercise of leadership involving the highly nuanced interactions within a diverse workforce that results in motivation, high levels of morale, enthusiasm, focus, commitment, organizational cohesiveness, and group success.

Given the essential role that a person’s dignity and sense of self-worth plays in an employee’s contribution to any enterprise, leaders must become aware of the Ten Essential Elements of Dignity and the Ten Temptations to Violate Dignity.  Finally, leaders at all levels of an organization must work to change their subtle and unintentional affronts to the dignity of others.

Bottom line – Because people matter, it pays to treat them well by honoring their inherent dignity, but leaders have to know how!

Conclusion:

This is an important book with broad implications beyond conflict resolution.  It should be read and studied by any leader who cares about followers and who wants to elicit his or her employees’ highest level of commitment and contribution.

The Book:

Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflicts, Donna Hicks, Ph.D, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2011

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Guest Blog: Dignity…We All Crave It, So Why Do We Keep Ignoring It?

Monday, November 14th, 2011

donna-hicks-152x200

What is the motivating force behind all human interaction – in families, in communities, in the business world, and in relationships from the personal level to the international level?  DIGNITY.  It is the desire to be treated well.  It is an unspoken human yearning that is at the heart of all conflicts, yet no one is paying attention to it.

When dignity is violated, the response is likely to involve aggression, even violence, hatred, and vengeance; the human connection is the first thing to go.  On the other hand, when people treat each other with dignity, they feel their worth is recognized, creating lasting and meaningful relationships.  Surprisingly, most people have little understanding of dignity.  While a desire for dignity is universal, knowing how to honor it in ourselves and others is not.

After working as a conflict resolution specialist for twenty years, I have observed and researched the circumstances that give rise to dignity violations.  On the other hand, when the following ten elements of dignity are honored, people feel their dignity has been recognized and that they have been treated well.  Relationships flourish under these conditions.

The Ten Essential Elements of Dignity

Acceptance of Identity.  Approach people as being neither inferior nor superior to you.  Give others the freedom to express their authentic selves without fear of being negatively judged.  Interact without prejudice or bias, accepting the ways in which race, religion, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, and disability may be at the core of the other people’s identities.  Assume that others have integrity.

Inclusion.  Make others feel that they belong, whatever the relationship – whether they are in your family, community, organization, or nation.

Safety.  Put people at ease at two levels: physically, so they feel safe from bodily harm, and psychologically, so they feel safe from being humiliated.  Help them feel free to speak without fear of retribution.

Acknowledgement.  Give people your full attention by listening, hearing, validating, and responding to their concerns, feelings, and experiences.

Recognition.  Validate others for their talents, hard work, thoughtfulness, and help.  Be generous with praise, and show appreciation and gratitude to others for their contributions and ideas.

Fairness.  Treat people justly, with equality, and in an evenhanded way according to agreed-on laws and rules.  People feel that you have honored their dignity when you treat them without discrimination or injustice.

Benefit of the Doubt.   Treat people as trustworthy.  Start with the premise that others have good motives and are acting with integrity.

Understanding.  Believe that what others think matters.  Give them the chance to explain and express their points of view.  Actively listen in order to understand them.

Independence.  Encourage people to act on their own behalf so that they feel in control of their lives and experience a sense of hope and possibility.

Accountability.  Take responsibility for your actions.  If you have violated the dignity of another person, apologize.  Make a commitment to change your hurtful behaviors.

Our desire for dignity resides deep within us, defining our common humanity.  If our capacity for indignity is our lowest common denominator, then our yearning for dignity is our highest.  And if indignity tears relationships apart, then dignity can put them back together again.

Our ignorance of all things related to dignity – how to claim our own and how to honor it in others, has contributed to many of the conflicts we see in the world today.  This is as true in the boardroom and in the bedroom, as it is in politics and international relations.  It is true for all human interaction.  If we are to evolve as a species, there is no greater need than to learn how to treat each other and ourselves with dignity.  It is the glue that could hold us all together.  And it doesn’t stop there.  Not only does dignity make for good human relationships, it does something perhaps far more important – it creates the conditions for our mutual growth and development.  It is a distraction to have to defend oneself from indignity.  It takes up our time and uses up our precious energy.  The power of dignity, on the other hand, only expands with use.  The more we give, the more we get.

There is no greater leadership challenge than to lead with dignity, helping us all to understand what it feels like to be honored and valued and to feel the incalculable benefits that come from experiencing it.  The leadership challenge is at all levels – for those in the world of politics, business, education, religion, to everyday leadership in our personal lives.  Peace will not flourish anywhere without dignity.  There is no such thing as democracy without dignity, nor can there be authentic peace if people are suffering indignities.  Last but not least, feeling dignity’s power – both by honoring it and locating our own inner source of it – sets us up for one of humanities greatest gifts – the experience of being in relationship with others in a way that brings out the best in one another, allowing us to become more of what we are capable of being.

Donna Hicks Ph.D., author of Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict, Yale University Press, 2011.  You can read more about the author and her book at http://drdonnahicks.com/

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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