Person-centered

Are You an Ethical Leader? How Do You (Really) Know?

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Man Reading the Definition of EthicsMost leaders consider themselves to be ethical, but some of the behaviors that underlie the core competency of Integrity may not be as easy as they sound. There are pressures in business to make financial, personnel, contracting and other decisions every day that carry ethical implications—everything from honesty in reporting travel expenses, hiring contractors in accordance with IRS regulations, following general accounting standards, accurately projecting and reporting earnings, paying all taxes that are owed, and so on. Unfortunately, we have all heard about the careers of individual leaders, as well as the viability of entire organizations, that have gone down the tubes due to ethical lapses.

There are many forces out there which make ethical leadership a challenge at times. There are pressures to make decisions quickly, produce reports that are favorable for stockholders and potential investors, make things look good to the boss, to the board, and to company employees. There is a very real temptation to spin things positively, in ways we may think others will like, or in some cases in order to be self-serving.

How can leaders be consistently ethical, and even agree on what it means to lead ethically? In describing the characteristics of my Holistic Leadership compholistic-leader-competencies-ethicaletency model, I propose that “ethical” leaders effectively use critical thinking skills, as well as their acute sense of right and wrong, to make ethical choices and “test” them before moving forward. When it comes to making decisions that affect people, it is a matter of treating others the way we would like to be treated—known as the golden rule. By “testing” decisions, I mean validating decisions with other leaders who are looking through an ethical lens, and in some cases talking with key stakeholders who will be affected by the decision to learn what they would consider to be fair or unfair.

Doing the Right Thing

Let’s look at a couple of examples. I spoke with business owner John Mundell, President of Mundell & Associates environmental consulting firm, an Economy of Communion business. He tells a story about a time when his company was pressured to make a political contribution in order to keep a municipal contract. He decided to make a small contribution, but along with the check he sent a letter saying that the purpose of the contribution was to encourage participation of citizens in the electoral process, and not to gain preferential treatment in contracting with the agency. He asked that the only basis they should use to consider him for future work was his company’s ability to deliver high quality environmental services to those who need his services. Period.

What happened was not totally surprising to him, but it was disappointing. Five new contracts were awarded, and his company did not receive one. It turned out that officials of all five companies personally knew the high-ranking political decision makers, and they had given much larger contributions than Mundell’s company. His first thought was, “Should I have given more?” but his second thought was, “…and sell my soul?” He felt at peace that he had done the right thing, and he believed that in the end good things would eventually happen if he continued to act ethically.

As it turned out, the next day Mundell was awarded a contract by another private party based on the quality of their work, and it was double the value of the municipal contract. As he reflected on this experience, Mundell said he was reminded that we are often put face-to-face with some darker realities in the world, and we would do well to step back and view our options in the light of ethical practices and an understanding of what is right.

The Golden Rule at Work

My second example comes from the Vice President of Human Resources for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, Chuck Davis. The restaurant chain is known for their core philosophy of putting associates first. I asked Davis how they put this philosophy into practice day to day, and whether that ever leads to ethical dilemmas. His answer was that they try and give associates the benefit of the doubt; they seek to understand before making assumptions, and yes indeed, that can lead to ethical dilemmas.

In one situation, an associate had been caught stealing $60 from the cash register. Davis’ first thought, a very normal HR posture, was to simply fire the associate based on his dishonest act. The owner, Cameron Mitchell, encouraged Davis to ask a few more questions. Why did he steal the money? What was his situation at the time? Investigating further, Davis discovered the associate had stolen the money to support a drug habit, which in Davis’ view was another reason to let the associate go. But as he discussed the matter further with Mitchell, when considering the associate as a person—and not simply as the bad behavior he exhibited—the question that arose was, “How can we help?”

They decided not to give up on the associate. If he would agree to get the help he needed they would give him a second chance and let him keep his job. It turned out the associate was able to make the necessary personal changes and correct his problem. According to Davis, the ethical dilemma was weighing the value of honesty with compassion for the associate’s situation. Looking at the associate as a person first, they gave him a second chance if he would do his part. And he did. They treated him the way they would like to be treated—the golden rule.

This story made me pause. In my past role as an HR executive, had I ever asked these questions when I was about to let someone go: “Why did he/she do this?” and “How can we help?”

Putting Ethical Leadership into Practice

In closing, let’s go back to the question in the title of this article. How do you (really) know you are an ethical leader? This question invites you to be brutally honest with yourself: What are your real motivations and drivers? What are your assumptions? What are your blind spots? How are you rationalizing a certain decision? Are you testing decisions with others?

In addition to this type of self-reflection, another test is to ask the question that one of my previous CEOs taught me: “If my family knew the decision I am about to make, and why, would they be proud of me?” Give this question a try—it’s a powerful way to ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing. Ethical leaders are not afraid to ask, and they are not afraid to act based on the answer.

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at jim@jlfunk.com.

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Leading with Virtue

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by Jim Funk

Gears Going Up Values Belief Integrity Faith Virtue

I recently conducted a workshop for a group of successful physicians about leading with virtue. At the beginning of the session, I asked the question, “What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘virtue’?” The responses varied from one of the dictionary definitions (moral excellence), to things like seeking perfection, having integrity, doing what is right, having a strong character, and being courageous.

We agreed that these are all valid descriptions of a virtuous person, and then we talked about why virtue is important in leadership. Leaders become the way they are from the inside out—meaning that who they are as a person impacts what they do and how they lead. If integrity is lacking in a leader’s behavior, it is probably because integrity is lacking in the leader. Thus, virtues are not only behaviors, but positive dispositions and attitudes that can guide leaders in making decisions that are good, right, courageous and prudent—and that will help ensure the organization’s success.

holistic-leader-competencies-virtuous“Virtuous” is one of the nine key characteristics I have identified for Holistic Leadership, which is a person-centered way to lead that considers the whole person—body, mind and spirit—in how others are directed, motivated, evaluated, rewarded, and given the opportunity to use their particular gifts and talents. This is important not only for the development of employees as people, it is also critical to organizations being able to meet its goals and objectives—to be sustainable and successful.

There are a number of virtues that I have observed to be critical to effective leadership, but I will focus on five in particular: Courage, Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Humility. What do we see in leaders who embody these virtues? Let’s use the leadership competency of effective decision-making as an example.

  • Courageous leaders are able to overcome difficulties in seeking what is good and right, even in the face of adversity and pressure to make a different decision. For example, it requires courage to stand up for what the leader believes is right, even when his or her opinion is clearly in the minority, or unpopular.
  • Leaders who practice the virtue of Prudence apply practical wisdom to their decision making. When pressured to make a quick decision, for example, the prudent leader knows when there has been the right amount of deliberation and dialogue before moving forward.
  • Just leaders are fair, and they respect the rights of all human persons. For example, they make compensation decisions that ensure their employees receive wages and benefits that are competitive, and that even the lowest paid workers at least receive a “living wage” to be able to meet their basic needs.
  • Temperance is acting in moderation, and keeping things in balance. Leaders who model work-life balance more often make the decision not to work that extra hour or two, but to go home to their families at the end of the workday.
  • Humility is not only about not exaggerating our abilities and accomplishments, but it is about affirming the innermost, true nature of who we are. Leaders who are humble do not take credit for the work others do, and they are willing to admit when they are wrong. They decide to be vulnerable.

Some might say, “Sure, I agree that these are good qualities, but what do they really have to do with organizational sustainability and getting results? Isn’t it enough to just do what needs to be done, and hold people accountable?” Let’s go back to the physicians I described earlier. Can you imagine going to a doctor who takes a certain path simply because it is easier? Prudent healthcare professionals do not make decisions that way. Rather, they make sure various treatment plan options have been thoroughly considered before deciding which one to recommend. It wouldn’t take many situations with a lack of prudent decision-making in the practice of medicine to negatively impact the trust of colleagues and patients, and the sustainability of the practice.

While this might be obvious, we can call to mind numerous cases of executive and leadership decision making that was not virtuous, and the result was usually the removal of the leader from the role, and at worst, the demise of the company.

What does it take for leaders to be virtuous? First and foremost, they need to be willing to undertake the “inner work” of becoming aware of their own character strengths and opportunities. I recommend an instrument that I have used with various leadership groups called the VIA Survey, available through the VIA Institute on Character. Ideally take the free VIA Survey and then upgrade to either the VIA Pro or the VIA Me report for a nominal cost, which gives people good feedback and insight into their particular values and virtues. There are also many resources on their website about ways to both use one’s character strengths, and to boost those that are not as strong.

Leaders need to be lifelong learners and be willing to practice in order to be virtuous. They must learn from their own experiences and those of others, as well as remain open to honest feedback. Finally, they need to be willing to practice and build the skills and behaviors of virtuous leaders. Virtues develop through practice, and from cultivating them over time. Coaching or mentoring from a leader who has moved further along in the journey of becoming virtuous can be a particularly great resource.

Do you work for a leader who you would consider “virtuous?” What was it like? How do you think they got that way? I invite you to write about your experience in reply to this blog, or e-mail me at jim@jlfunk.com with your story. I would like to hear from you!

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at jim@jlfunk.com.

What Do Leaders Leave in their Wake?

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by Jim Funk

body mind spirit balance hand drawing on blackboard

We learn a lot about leadership from reporting to different bosses. Some inspire us and our teams while building trust, commitment and engagement. Under their leadership, people thrive. Other bosses drive people into the ground to get results, punish mistakes, and create fear. Under their leadership, talented people leave. So if we really look at the wake that leaders leave behind, we can decide what kind of leader we want to be and then aspire to become that.

I like to challenge leaders to evaluate their own leadership by pausing to reflect on what it is like to work for certain types of leaders. In one of my workshops I divide the team in two and ask one group to imagine working in an organization led by fear and a philosophy that only results count—not people. In this scenario, employees are simply resources to be used to get to the desired outcomes. The other group is asked to imagine working in a place where leaders put people at the center, and where creativity and teamwork is encouraged. In this scenario, people are truly valued.

After some discussion, each group then shares what it is like to work in their respective organizations. The fear-driven group typically describes the working environment this way:

  • Distrust and anger
  • Dysfunction, rumors, blame
  • Punishment for taking risks that don’t work out
  • A feeling of powerlessness, helplessness
  • A negative atmosphere, tension, disorganization
  • Less engagement and commitment

And the person-centered group? Their working environment is quite different:

  • Energy, creativity
  • Personal, timely and open communication
  • Freedom to take risks and learn from failures
  • Empowerment to help others succeed
  • A family atmosphere
  • A desire to make a personal contribution to the vision

These are nearly exact opposites. And I also found it very interesting to watch the passion that the two groups display when sharing their reports, probably because they are speaking from real-life experiences. To some degree, they relive their experiences just by talking about them. The fear-driven group has sullen faces, a tone of voice that exudes anger and frustration, and they even seem to be anxious. Conversely, the person-centered group speaks with enthusiasm, excitement, and they can hardly stop talking about how engaging and satisfying the work environment is.

What is the difference? In my leadership development work I describe person-centered leaders as “holistic” because they bring their whole selves to their leadership role—body, mind and spirit.  In doing so, they treat others as whole people too, rather than just resources.

Let’s look at a couple of examples of how this plays out in the real world. What is it really like to work for a person-centered leader?

Merle Tebbe works for John Mundell, president of Mundell & Associates, an environmental consulting firm and Economy of Communion business. He tells a story about Mundell’s leadership that demonstrates how he puts into practice the person-centered principle of Economy of Communion businesses. Some time ago a former co-worker from another company was out of work and recuperating from a significant medical issue. He wanted to start his own business and get back on track as soon as he could, but he didn’t have a place to work. Mundell offered him free office space in the building so he could successfully start the business, and he allowed him to use it for several months. Later on, the company landed a project that actually required the skillset of the former employee, so he was offered his first paid work in quite a long time. The result of Mundell’s person-centered leadership? Tebbe points out that this was truly a win-win, which resulted solely from the generosity of Mundell in giving the former employee the break that he needed without expecting anything in return.

In another example, Lori Shannon reports directly to Blake Dye, president of St.Vincent Heart Center. While the Heart Center is not an Economy of Communion business, they are part of Ascension Health, the largest Catholic health system in the country. Ascension also has a principle of being person-centered, and in particular providing for those who are poor and vulnerable. Shannon says she quotes her boss frequently because she admires his style. One of her favorite quotes is a statement he made to her when she first started in her role as an executive. He said, “You know what you are doing, Lori. I am getting out of your way so you can do it. Let me know if you need anything from me.” His trust in her skills and abilities was a real compliment. She also points out that he expects his entire team to manage their work-life balance, and he sets the example himself. The result of this person-centered leadership? An engaged executive team—both individually and collectively—that successfully leads facilities that provide the best heart care in Indiana, and explore innovative technologies that are helping to establish new standards of care.

We can see in these examples that person-centered leaders like John Mundell and Blake Dye inspire and motivate others, not only because of their leadership capability, but because of who they are as people—and how they treat others. I refer to this as holistic leadership.

Do you work for a holistic leader, or have you in the past? What was it like? What difference did it make to you, to your team, and to your organization? I invite you to write about your experience in reply to this blog, or e-mail me at jim@jlfunk.com with your story. I would like to hear from you!

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at jim@jlfunk.com.

Business Results Can Soar When People Are Treated As People

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02b22c8  By Jim Funk

Why do you do business with particular companies, stores or individuals? They certainly must have the product, quality and service you want; but what else beyond that? Being treated as a whole person is what makes the difference. It’s good for people—and good for business. Let’s look at two real-life examples.

  1. Treating Customers Right…is good for business

John Mundell knows a thing or two about taking care of customers. As President of Mundell & Associates, an Economy of Communion (EoC) business in the field of environmental consulting, he takes pride in exceeding clients’ expectations and bringing a sensitivity to all stakeholders in every project. In fact, the company website describes their innovative solutions as a combination of “scientific knowledge and a person-centered approach,” and highlights one of the Economy of Communion’s top values: Considering the Human Person in business.

I spoke with Mundell about their philosophy and he explained how it’s actually helped them build and retain a loyal client base. One example that he felt was particularly impactful was a time when they were able to solve a client’s engineering problem quickly and inexpensively, considering the situation, but their $3,000 fee was still more than the client wanted to pay. Even though Mundell thought it was a fair price, rather than insist on the full payment he said the client could pay what they thought the service was worth. They paid $1,000. But it wasn’t a loss for Mundell & Associates. The client wanted to continue the relationship and over the next three years brought them over $1 million worth of new business. The client let Mundell know he earned their loyalty when they felt they were treated fairly in that very first decision regarding the invoice and the client’s concern was put ahead of the company’s.

Mundell is convinced that when businesses consciously put people and relationships ahead of profits, value team interests over self-interests and intentionally serve the other person, clients want to work with that kind of company. For Mundell & Associates, besides being the right thing to do, they believe treating customers right has translated into millions of dollars in revenue that the company would not have otherwise received.

  1. Put Employees First…and they will in turn put customers first

People Arrow - JLFunk Blog4.jpgCameron Mitchell Restaurants is a privately held company that is not affiliated with the
Economy of Communion, but they have adopted many of the same principles and business practices as the EoC. Mitchell began with one small restaurant in Columbus, Ohio in 1993, which has now grown to 25 units and 12 different restaurant concepts with locations in 11 states. Their website explains that they use the term “associates” instead of employees in order to recognize and respect their importance. Putting people first is core to Cameron Mitchell’s way of doing business, which he believes is their differentiating strategy. Mitchell says they don’t just hire great people; they make sure to treat them great once they’re on board. That, in turn, inspires a genuine hospitality that guests, vendors and even members of the community sense and appreciate. Mitchell is convinced that the spark for their growth and success is the “people first” culture they have deeply embedded in their restaurants.

I asked Chuck Davis, the Vice President of Human Resources for Cameron Mitchell, what they do to create and sustain their “people first” culture and what difference it makes. He told me how they treat associates well from the time they are recruited, through their orientation and throughout their employment. Specifically, they have practices like closing their restaurants for seven major holidays, plus Super Bowl Sunday—unheard of in the restaurant business—so associates can enjoy those events with their families. They emphasize reward and recognition that associates appreciate. One small example is they hand out delicious milkshakes to reward associates regularly. To Mitchell’s associates, a milkshake is much better than a handshake! And as a “topping” they pay competitive wages and benefits that attract and retain their valuable associates. They also emphasize their development and give associates opportunities to learn, grow and build skills. They promote from within more than 75% of the time.

The result?

  • Mitchell’s employee engagement survey had 99.57% participation.
  • Employee satisfaction registers in the mid to high 90th percentiles.
  • Associates receive better tips than the industry average.
  • Turnover is lower than it usually is in the restaurant business.
  • And when it comes to business results, they have financial outcomes that exceed industry standards.

These results support the company’s belief that treating associates as whole persons translates to customer satisfaction, which in turn improves the bottom line.

Why is a Person-Centered Philosophy Good for Business?

From these examples we can see that customers want to do business with companies that treat them well, and employees want to work for an employer that respects and appreciates them. Further, this effect isn’t limited to only customers and employees. It’s true for the board room, company leadership, suppliers, partners, communities where they are located, and for anyone who interacts in some way with a company. Not only is it the right thing to do, but good reputations spread—which leads to customer and employee loyalty. It becomes a cycle that translates into higher volumes, increased revenues, lower costs and higher margins.

Person Centered Practices

How does an organization become person-centered? Like for Mundell and Mitchell, focusing on people must become embedded in the culture: leadership, policies and practices, and how everything plays out day-to-day in real situations. Here are some of the suggestions I make to my clients who want to build a person-centered culture.

  1. Empower employees (or better yet, “associates”) at all levels to be able to address customer concerns.
  2. Take quick “pulse” surveys (not long and arduous opinion surveys) to check in quickly and regularly with people about how they’re doing, what they need to be at their best, and how to get those needs met.
  3. Describe the desired culture, and then hire for fit to that culture, especially in leadership positions where being person-centered is modeled and held up as “how we do things.”
  4. Give employees opportunities to reward and recognize each other, ask what makes them feel appreciated, and encourage it at all levels.
  5. Check out important decisions with some key stakeholders before you proceed, and ask questions about how will they be impacted, what pitfalls have you not thought of, and how the decision could best be communicated.

In my next blog we will look at what makes a workplace human. You might be surprised at my ideas, especially coming from a person who has spent most of his career in Human Resources!


Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at jim@jlfunk.com.