truisms

Be A Super Ethical Leader in 3 Easy Steps

 

Immanuel Kant is a boss. Like, the boss of bosses.

As far as philosophers go, he’s like the RZA of this here ethics game. He’s the one that really summed it up nicely, and gave everyone the central cornerstone of modern ethics: The Categorical Imperative!

categorical

Put simply: Act so that the maxim of your actions should be made universal and necessary. 

Ok, put even simpler: In whatever you do, act in such a way that you’re advocating that all people, everywhere, should always act in the same way, in that same situation.

So, if you shoplift, you’re saying by your actions that it’s in the best interest of all people everywhere to do the same. If you disagree, and think all people shouldn’t shoplift, neither should you – so don’t do it. Duh.

If you hold the door for people walking 10 steps behind you and let them in first, you’re saying everyone else should do the same. Also a good idea.

Boom. Lawyered.

Or, philosophized? Whatever. 

literallykant

Kant’s other central points were:

  1. People are an ends in and of themselves, not a means to an end – so treat them that way. Don’t intentionally harm them.
  2. A good act is a good thing in and of itself, regardless of the outcome. Even if you failed, a good act is its own reward.

Taken altogether, if practiced, you have the lion’s share of what it takes to be a good leader – or at least not a giant-garbage-person.

My take away?

  • Love people. At the very least, respect their humanity. Every one of them. Treat them decently, even if you don’t like them.
  • Do a good thing because it’s a good thing to do. That means being honest, keeping promises, give your best effort, learn from mistakes. Even if you fail, you did the right thing and that’s all it needs to be. Success received for doing the wrong thing isn’t any success at all.
  • Be a model for what you think is right – make sure you agree with what your actions say you believe in.

I wish I had another Kant pun to throw in here to close this thing out with, but I Kant think of one.

Waitaminute… I see what I did there.  I just Kant get enough of these puns.

To write a better Mission Statement, have a better mission.

Planning is invaluable, but plans are useless.

Planning is invaluable, but plans are useless.

For the last year we’ve been discussing our Mission and who we want to be as a team. What’s the imprint of our collective souls and what words do we want to live by, faithfully? It’s not an easy question and it’s taken us the better part of a year, with regular meetings, to arrive at this:

In everything we do we seek to simplify the complicated. Because nothing is faster, we trust our teammates and clients freely and implicitly, and we treat them that way. Doing so builds a safe environment where communication is free-flowing, open, and honest.

Through this environment we continually work to innovate our operational systems to ensure the best possible user experience (UX), from first tour through graduation. Knights Circle creates an exceptional Student Housing experience by focusing on people, and a ceaseless desire to make their lives easier.

A few thoughts relating to our mission statement and how we went into the process of creating it:

It’s focused: We wanted something that wasn’t too long or too all encompassing – if you have five priorities, you have no priorities. We wanted to focus on systems because we all could and everyone had skin in that game. From the bottom up, our organization has an interest in making sure our systems work properly every time. Our clients’ satisfaction is directly wrapped up in our systems, as are our front line team members. If things work right, you’re generally happy with the service – both inside and outside the operation.

It’s not permanent:  I think too often people tend to assume that a mission statement needs to be god speaking for all time. Not so. It’s a living document, much closer to a constitution – this is how we’re assembled and for what purpose. If we no longer feel as though this speaks to our highest purpose, and there’s another revelation that we want to enshrine, then change it we will. The good news is we don’t need anything as unwieldy as a continental congress to do it.

It advises action: A mission statement that can’t help guide your choice in actions isn’t worth the time it takes to read it. If we’re going to say that we trust everyone implicitly, what’s that look like in action? Are there things we’re doing now that suggest we don’t trust people? For example, some managers have required doctor’s notes for absent employees who’ve called out for appointments. Requiring the note says fully “look, we don’t really believe you and we want to see proof – we don’t trust you and we have to protect ourselves from you.” That’s not at all the message we want to send, so we stop doing it. The same with our clients – if they want to switch rooms due to an unsolvable roommate dispute, requiring the jumping through of hoops for documentation in order to offer it, it says “We don’t believe you and we don’t trust you. You’re trying to get over on us and we’re not going to have it.” That was never the intention of course, but that’s the resulting feeling to the client.

 It’s honest: How many times have you looked at a company’s stated mission only to shake your head? The soaring platitudes are exhausting and immediately erode whatever trust you may have had. If an organization can’t be honest with themselves, how can they be honest (consistently, institutionally) with anyone else? We wanted to say something we all believed in and that we all wanted to live by. The best parts of US is our ability to work together and our shared desire to provide a great experience. We were honest with each other that while we’re pretty damn good at this thing, we’re not perfect and we’d like to get closer to that. Breaking it down we realized focusing our energies on perfecting our systems would have a ripple effect positively touching every other aspect of our business; Happier clients, happier Team, and more success.

Another great design by Danae McDermott

Another great design by Danae McDermott

We started with Why: A giant hat tip to Mr. Simon Sinek for his inspirational TED talk. If you’re not familiar, I can’t implore you enough to check out his work (Talks, books, consulting services, etc…) as he’s directly responsible for how we chose to approach this formulation. In short, Sinek advises that great organizations start with Why they do things, then How, then What. Most though do it the other way around and this gets it all wrong, eliminating any of the inspiration and identity that could be had between the client and the company. For an example, ours is as follows:

WHY: We hate needless complication. We like things to work seamlessly. We think we can simplify things better than anyone else because we understand WHY they ultimately should be that way.

HOW: Because we trust each other, and our clients, we’re able to be honest about our business and our shortcomings in our systems. We strive to fix our systems to eliminate institutional defects.

WHAT: An exceptional student housing experience. This starts with everything working the way it should. The exceptional part is that we’re also exceedingly nice and warm, happy people who love what they do and each other. Since we work in a system that values people and making things work, we’ve got lots of goodwill in our hearts to treat you like a rock star and to go out of our way for you. We’re not scared of you, or hiding from you – we want to delight you.

We think this should be a good overall statement for this coming year and I’m impressed with how the team has taken to it with enthusiasm. I’m confident that a year from now, we’ll be writing a different version that recognizes our shifting focus while retaining our core Why, and that’s how it should be. Involvement breeds commitment, and that’s one thing we have plenty of.

What’s your mission? How did you get there? Does it still serve you and your team?

We’re all Liars?

Seth Godin’s book, “All Marketers Are Liars” is available in audio format for free on Youtube.

It’s a great synthesis of a lot of his recent ideas from TED talks and various interviews. I’m in love with his message of authenticity, honesty, and story telling. These really are my favorite things and my sticking points constantly in our dealings with Team Members and Customers alike.

Do yourself a favor and give it a listen while you’re working today, or on your next decent car ride and then talk about the ideas with a co-worker or your significant other.

Enjoy!

Sift Media has the right culture

While checking out the best of Slideshare 2014, I came across this gem. For anyone reading my blog, or anyone that knows me, this perfectly encapsulates my thinking on Company Culture and what it should be. Give it a quick run through and I think you’ll fall in love with it.

Born on Third Base

privtriple

No doubt. A lot of people are born with caring families and comforts and plenty of valuable direction at an early age. Others, with far less.

So what?

People who go through life worrying that the guy or gal on third, that was born there and doesn’t know it, are the same people not concerned sufficiently with their own lead-off towards second. Successful people don’t worry about other people’s advantages – they focus on how to craft their own. They don’t worry about where they were born, they worry about where they want to live.

This seemingly benign statement is pregnant with negativity. If they don’t realize their “privilege” or they incorrectly think their station in life was earned, who are you to point it out or to care? Their place has no impact on your own success and to focus on it for more than an instance is to waste the gift. To waste the knowledge that you’re capable of having whatever you want in life, assuming you want it enough.

That last part is the most difficult to grasp. That you have to want it enough to do something different than what you did before, different from everyone else around you. The fact is most people DON’T want things that bad to stop doing what they’ve always done. A point of comfort is achieved and there isn’t enough magnetic push or pull to get people to do the work necessary to accomplish great success.

So, as we’re generally comfortable enough, and dissatisfied that this other person has a better: car/income/family life/office/reputation/etc… the story we’re tempted to tell ourselves is that they didn’t earn it. That it was purely luck, and they should come down a peg from all of their high horses and silver spoons. But what good does any of it do? Envy, jealousy, feelings of superiority – all evils for a reason. Not because of what they do to others, but for how they corrode us and rust over our own initiative.

 

What Have You Broken Lately?

The 80’s have been enjoying a nice little nostalgia revival in popular culture lately, as all of us who were children at that time are now having children of our own. My favorite part of the whole shtick is seeing all the old things I used to disassemble back then (dust buster, RC cars, Atari system, Rubik’s cube, Toy Robots) all done with a smuggled screw driver lifted quietly from dad’s tool kit.

I broke ALL of this stuff, man! The vast majority of it worked at the time I stripped it down and I told my parents (when caught) that I was just seeing how it worked and I was going to put it all back together the way I found it. Good story, young Rob.

So what did I do with all of it? While ruining a lot of things, I also made some really cool stuff: A keyed switch box from an old security system I found in the trash became my means of keeping my little brother from using my RC car when I wasn’t around by wiring it to the main power source. The old Dust Buster turned into a sweet battery powered fan I took everywhere with me. More things than not, just wound up as junk pieces I would tinker with for hours on end.

All this brings me to the main point here, the one covered in Seth’s speech below – so much of what we are given to do as children is rehearsal for jobs of following instructions. No one wants us to innovate anything, or more importantly – to fail in the pursuit of innovation. It’s messy in the short run and we’re conditioned to be scared to death of that fear of short term failure. Maybe we think the single effort that turns out to be fruitless will infect the rest of our actions – winding us up as one big eternal loser – the starving artist, the hermit inventor, the failed dancer.

Because I really like what I do I’ve never stopped tearing apart my toys. Only thing is, now, instead of wires and electric motors it’s spreadsheets, policies, and marketing efforts. Don’t get me wrong – we don’t tear something down for the simple sake of destruction. We tear things down because a better way is possible and achievable and can only be built on the foundation of the old. We tear it down because what we have is ugly and outmoded and we have outgrown it – it no longer serves us, or other people.

I’m not going to lie, a little more than half of people I’ve worked with over the years have hated this. These could be corporate support people, or bosses, coworkers, vendors, etc… anyone who’s life was disrupted by my curiosity and instance when a better way was possible. “This is the way we’ve always done it” or “It’s fine! Just leave it alone! Who cares anyway?”

The other half though?

That’s what and who you do it for. Those that want a better way, a simpler, faster, higher quality way. A more elegant way. Not just the veneer of progress, but actual, honest-to-goodness ingenuity coming through with a higher quality process for… anything!

So break something this week. Crack open your corporate policy on how to handle customer concerns, or some internal process and see if you can’t actually make a better mousetrap. If the process doesn’t make you smile at it’s simplicity and beauty, it’s probably ready for a revision.