We don't often hear these three words in the workplace: forgive, love, and compassion. Yet when we meaningfully express them and use them as a call to action they can have a huge impact on the culture of our organizations.
Forgive: The Encarta Dictionary defines forgive this way: “(to) stop being angry about or resenting somebody or somebody’s behaviour; or, to excuse somebody for a mistake, misunderstanding, wrongdoing or inappropriate behaviour.” I haven’t heard the words “forgive” or “forgiveness” used much in the workplace. When they are used with meaning they have a powerful impact. Mostly I have heard words that beg forgiveness like "sorry" and "apologize." Often with little meaning behind them. They were more polite words, then meaningful words. I have also heard expressions that can easily be interpreted as discriminatory, blaming or name calling.
Everyday someone in the workplace, including the boss, makes mistakes. Mistakes are made because we are not perfect. The thing about mistakes is that they can be corrected, and they do need to be corrected. However, there is no room for the blame game, name calling and discriminatory language. To get caught up in the latter is a sure sign we are still harbouring anger or resentment. Correct the behavior and when appropriate say, “I forgive you, and mean it.” Think of the positive effect it would have on the culture of an organization if people forgave each other for past wrong doing or misunderstanding.
Seeking forgiveness and forgiving are not easy. Read the definition again: “stop being angry about or resenting somebody or somebody’s behaviour.” It’s easy for someone to say "I'm sorry" and “I forgive you.” It’s harder to remove the resentment or anger one feels. This takes time, but until we come to grips with these feelings we will become consumed by them and the anger and resentment will tear us up from the inside out and our relationships and overall effectiveness will be diminished. So, the first thing we need to consider is the forgiveness of oneself, because it is the self, who holds the resentment, anger and grudge. It is a reciprocal process binding both forgiveness and forgiving. And once the healing is experienced through forgiveness and forgiving we can go on and forgive others.
Forgiving and asking for forgiveness also takes courage. Asking for forgiveness shows our vulnerability. Something we don't do easily as we see vulnerability as a weakness. When we understand the power of forgiveness we turn that weakness into a strength. Seeking forgiveness lessens our burden and actually shows the strength of our character, and when accepted, the character of those we work with. When the reciprocal activity of forgiveness happens in the workplace it is a powerful statement of the trust, openness and compassion found in the relationships we have with each other, our team or our organization as a whole..
Forgiveness in the workplace pales against the seeking and giving of forgiveness we read about regarding the "Truth and Reconciliation" process people experienced in South Africa, or about our own process regarding our First Nation's people. The stories that were told, the deep forgiveness that was extended during those hearings should be an inspiration for all of us. If you get a chance, read some of those stories and be inspired about forgiveness, and ask, "why is it so hard to do this in our places of work?"
Love: Love is a loaded word in our society and perhaps it has always been that way. Love is almost always associated with emotion and synonymous with passion, attraction, desire, and sexual feelings. We certainly don’t condone sexual behaviour in the work place and many businesses have rightly developed policies about “romantic relationships.” However, we do use the words “passion” and “love” to express how we feel about what we do, for example: “I love what I do,” or, “ I’m really passionate about my work.”
Another meaning for love is expressed through the acts of patience, kindness, respect, selflessness or gratitude towards one another no matter how hard that may be. This is a different kind of love. It is the love of volition, or the love of choice. It means our willingness to pay attention to the needs, best interest and the well-being of others, regardless of how we feel in any given day. It's the persistent positive action of what one does. It is consistent, fair and foundational. This is the type of love we can show in the workplace. As someone once said: “Love is, is what love does.”
This is also the love that strong leaders share with their organizations and people they serve. Consider for a moment the impact great leaders have had who were not afraid to use and express love through their actions, such as: Jesus, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela, and Mother Teresa; or leaders in the business and sports world such as Jack Welsh, Herb Kelleher, John Hunter, Kevin Roberts and Vince Lombardi.
One well respected Executive Director, I know, had no difficulty pointing out mistakes or correcting poor behaviour. When he was done with the correcting he would always say, “We still love you,” and did so in the kindliest of ways.
Compassion: There are several ways in which we can develop a culture of compassion in the workplace. Take for instance we can in a compassionate way:
Yet the word “compassion” is seldom used. How often have you heard, “let’s show some compassion to our fellow workers?” or, “we need to be compassionate about those less fortunate than us?" Compassion is all about understanding or empathy for the suffering of others. Here’s what I have heard too frequently: “tough it out,” "don’t cry,” “stop your whimpering,” and “I don’t want to hear excuses.” If we hear things like that perhaps we should ask, “Is there room for some compassion here?”
There are real ways we can bring compassion to the workplace - we just need to commit ourselves to act. What are the rewards? Not much - just a healthy, committed and dedicated workforce. Who can ask for more? Try a little compassion next time you're faced with a difficult problem - it just may surprise you.
What to do: Try something different in your workplace. Consider forgiveness, love and compassion as cornerstones for positive interaction; it may just change your organizational culture for the better. We would be hard pressed to deal with “forgiveness” and “compassion” without the “love choice. That is why I have placed love between the two – we can’t have the two without the one. Can we really express these words in action independently of each other?
Want to learn more?
Books that may help: James C. Hunter, “The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle,” Greg Baer M.D. "Real Love in the Workplace," Karen Armstrong, "Compassionate Life," and a very light read by various authors “ Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work.”
Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC, Up-dated from Fontanie Learning Solutions
Image from: Royaltyfree/corbis
The traditional organization is hierarchical in structure and culture. It is based on top-down power and control. The new organization is flatter, flexible and collaborative. It incorporates a number of cultural and structural dynamics including those that impact leadership, management, customers, stakeholders, resources, processes and learning. In bullet form here are a few of the dynamics to look for in today's organization.
Leadership & Management
Customers and Stakeholders
Does your organization approach some of these dynamics? Have you moved from the traditional hierarchical structure to the more engaged, flexible and collaborative one?
Something I discovered while working with business owners and leadership teams suggested that many of them viewed organizational change as a theoretical construct. They talked change, discussed change models, and at times, were frustrated and paralyzed by it. It became mind boggeling. Yet, the most crucial element regarding change is not at the intellectual level; it's at the emotional level. It hits people in the heart and gut.
Perhaps you can relate to these statements:
"We're reinventing the organization but change is too slow."
"Why don't my employees get it."
"We've had meeting after meeting about the new vision for the company, but so little has changed."
"My Board is getting impatient it wants to see people acting differently now."
"We're in a process of changing our culture but it isn't happening fast enough."
What's going on here? What's going on is that the leadership team doesn't fully understand, or is reluctant to accept that organizational change is a slow process, and could take up to seven years to come to fruition.
No matter what the change is some aspect of the organizational culture will change as a result of the process. The fact remains, however, that organizational culture only changes when people decide that the change has value for them. That's the rub. People need to "feel" that the change will benefit them in some way. If they don't, the change will be long and fraught with difficulty. At its core, the leadership team want individuals to let go of something that defines them and replace it with something new and different.
Imagine a large organization with all its systems and processes predicated on a hierarchical structure and the leadership team now deems that a vision-value driven organization with interconnected teams' delivering services and products within a flat structure is the way for the future. This is a tsunami change for almost everyone in the organization and becomes a huge challenge for them. Here the "what" and "how" of work is literally turned upside down. What was "valued and rewarded" in the past is now slipping away.
Now imagine a small or medium sized business that's going through rapid change as it comes to grips with a fast paced evolving marketplace. New people are hired while others are let go. New products are brought on stream, and others are dropped. People are confused about the direction of the company, how to relate to each other and what they are supposed to do. Again, people are challenged about the "what" and "how" of their work.
Most people define themselves not by who they are (which is the subject of another post) but by what they do; and, what they do is wrapped up in their self-image and ego. When people define themselves in this way, letting go of what they do means they need to redefine themselves in some way. This poses both an intellectual and an emotional challenge for them. Letting go, however, is precisely what has to happen if any change is to occur.
The process of redefinition takes time and many will try to protect their ego, their self-image and their job (what they do) by initially denying that the change is real. They say such things as:
“I don't think anything will really change."
“Let's wait it out – this too shall pass,”
“I’ll make some surface changes to show I’m willing, but I'm not going to really change what I do," and,
"This new approach is too much for me, I can't go along with it."
Leadership teams need to fully appreciate that organizations are made up of individuals who have different personalities, attitudes, habits and behaviors. When change is introduced they are asking each one of these individuals to accept a level of personal change. Some will want to hang on to their comfortable past, others will “get it" and will want to move ahead, while others won't be sure which action to take and will vacillate back and forth from one position to the next.
Let's consider just one aspect of what we are asking people to change, their habits.
Ask any leader two simple questions: 1) Did you have a well wired habit that you tried to change? and, 2) How hard was it to change that habit? If they are honest they will tell you that it wasn't easy and it took some time to feel comfortable with the new habit.
When a leadership team embarks on changing an organization it is asking not one individual but many individuals to change their habits and behaviors. If those individuals have been working the same way and using the same processes within the same structures, they have developed a habitual way of completing their work. They now must break away from what they have interpreted as acceptable to something different and new. They are being asked to change their habitual pattern which over time has become part of their identity; and, taking on new habits is not necessarily easy and usually time consuming.
At the root of all this is that the leadership team wants individuals to take a leap of faith - to trust them that the new is better than the old. Individuals need to be convinced that it is better to let go than to hang on. This requires the leadership team to constantly communicate and reiterate the positive aspects of the new direction with patience, practical learning opportunities, engagement, and the willingness to adjust when required.
Lasting organizational change only happens when people are ready. They are ready when they intellectually recognize the benefits for the change and integrate them emotionally. That's when it becomes a new way for them. Some will grasp, celebrate, and incorporate the change quickly; others will recognize the benefits but will still be reluctant to change, When they do they may slip back to past behaviors and require continual encouragement and support. Eventually the organizational culture will change and those who have accepted the change will evidence a new habitual pattern.
It is also my experience that there are those individuals who are unwilling to change. People around them have embraced or a least have adjusted to their new reality, but they haven't. In these cases the leadership team has three options, they can:
Questions to Ponder: Do you consider the mired of people issues when you embark on a change process within your organization? Do you think organizational change takes too long? Do you say: "Change, or else!" Do you believe that individuals have to integrate the change both intellectually and emotionally? Are there times when the leadership team can't wait - they need to move quickly and accept the fall out? What process do you follow when introducing change within your company or organization?
You may also be interested in the series found under LeaderManager on the Front Page: "The Middle Muddle"
Updated from the archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions.