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A few words about the responsibility of words

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People attend an abortion-rights protest at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Photo: AP/Rick Bowmer

People attend an abortion-rights protest at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Photo: AP/Rick Bowmer

People attend an abortion-rights protest at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Photo: AP/Rick Bowmer

Here we are on the eve of the day dedicated to celebrating American independence at the same time that a critical form of it has been snatched away from one half of its population by the Supreme Court.

I’m not thinking specifically about the Roe v Wade decision which has already taken place. I’m now thinking about what happens next. I’m thinking about the words. The words being used by journalists and analysts to cover the ruling’s fallout and projected impact. The words being deployed by politicians to bolster their political positions for the upcoming mid-term elections. And finally, I’m very much thinking about the words which were immediately offered by US companies like Apple, Disney and JP Morgan, which pledged to pay female employees who need to travel out of state to receive an abortion.

I think the pledge is the right thing to do. I also think the companies that make these pledges should hold their corporate leaders responsible for supporting that communication with aligned campaign contributions. If I were an investigative journalist, I would be scouring the political donation records of every leader I could find – from the CEO to the board of directors.

If any of them supported Trump or his Maga-minds, they are contributing to the divided and devastating situation the US finds itself in now.

Likewise, as companies here in Ireland and around the world, pledge their commitment to supporting freedom, independence, diversity, equity and inclusion, I encourage us all to seek to verify that their commitments extend beyond mere words.

Here then, are a few commitments you leaders can make.

FREEDOM OF LOCATION

When it comes to getting people back into the office, Tesla’s Elon Musk may have stated what many leaders have been privately thinking when he notoriously wrote: “If you don’t show up, we’ll assume you’ve resigned.” But, I agree whole-heartedly with my fellow business writer Adrian Weckler, who dedicated a previous column on this, that Musk is wrong. The quickest way to roll back the increased trust and autonomy your company has provided employees who have demonstrated they can work from home is to deny them the choice to continue. Yes, I’m pro-choice here too.

Don’t suddenly announce a surprise policy from some ivory tower. Unlike the US Supreme Court justices, you, as a company team leader, don’t have your position for life. Commit to the hybrid model for the time being. And while you continue to offer flexibility to your employees, survey them to mindfully understand how and when to adjust your models in the future.

FREEDOM TO FAIL

Leaders need to create a culture of innovation, experimentation and creativity, then focus on tracking progress, not perfection. Sure, provide guardrails and guidance by setting project deadlines and milestones to check on that progress. But encourage your people to devise their own strategies, approaches and working styles.

Mistakes and failures will happen. How you respond makes all the difference.

For example, one of my sales executives recently devised and launched an email campaign intended to ask former coaching clients if they would like another engagement or could offer a referral. Great idea and I left him to it. Until I received an unexpected, direct message of frustration from one of those who’d been emailed.

The high-ranking exec told me he couldn’t believe he’d just received a group message sent to every coaching client within his organisation. Oh no. I couldn’t believe it either. I didn’t even think to caution my sales guy against sending a group email. Although people may be part of the same company family, it doesn’t mean they want everyone else to know they’ve received coaching.

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I could get angry, or I could use this as a learning opportunity. I curated a lesson-learned session, to share and even celebrate the misstep. When you are sure the motivations and intentions were intended to result in a positive outcome, you should allow your people to be the imperfect humans that they are.

As an epilogue, I spoke with that former client personally. He accepted my apology and we went on to have a good catch-up. There will likely even be some repeat business. Remember if you want to make some omelettes, you have to break some eggs.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Say “Yes” to creating a culture of welcoming diverse opinions, perspectives, and points of view. But say a very strong “No” to lying, dodging, personal attacks, gossip and all other destructive forms of communication.

The three conservative judges appointed to the Supreme Court in the Trump administration said one thing during their hearings, but their record and subsequent rulings said something else. With such a dishonest leader selecting these people, why did anyone expect a different outcome?  


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