High Performance Leadership Requires Intolerance & Transcendence
Intolerance: I am uncomfortable with the way in which the media shapes our perception of ideas and words. For example, the idea of being intolerant is a label with which the media vilifies people, but here is the truth; I am intolerant, you are intolerant, everyone is intolerant…and everyone is right. Do you tolerate murder, rape, theft? Of course not. That said, we can and should tolerate many things, but we should never tolerate injustice. It is precisely why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice resonates so loudly to this day. He would not tolerate being chained by the injustice of prejudice and racism. Understanding intolerance demands an understanding of injustice as the two are inexorably linked. We should always be intolerant of those attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that lead to, or propagate, injustice.
Transcendence: The question is then, how do we determine what is just, and therefore, what should be tolerated? Should we follow the court of public (or popular) opinion? Should we take our cues from pop culture icons? How about the media? What about every person’s own interpretation of justice? Will any of these alternatives ultimately bring us peace? For those who think the aforementioned means hold the keys to justice, I must take you back in history and remind you that the majority of the people at the time (including popular leaders) were in favor of slavery. The majority of U.S. citizens at the time were in favor of killing innocent women, children and non-fighting citizens of Japan with not one but two atomic bombs. It was the German court of public opinion that came to believe Arianism was good and true and just. Simply because the majority thinks something is good and/or true does not necessarily mean it is. I ask again; how do we discern whether something is just or unjust and whether we should tolerate it or not? Here is precisely where we can call upon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. What authority did Dr. King (rightly) invoke? Remember, he swam ardently against the tide of popular culture and popular opinion at the time. Here are some quotes from his I Have A Dream speech that provide the answer; “Now is the time to make justice for all of God’s children.”… “And the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”… “This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning.” That’s right, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s successful battle against an ugly injustice was an appeal to a transcendent authority. We get a glimpse of the power of transcendence when observing what Dr. King Jr. achieved. It was not his authority or his moral philosophy that he appealed to…that would have been arrogant and divisive. He appealed to an authority and morality that transcended all people and it unified and achieved.
Leadership principle of intolerance: To architect a great organizational culture, you must be intolerant to the many inclinations that grip humans (your employees); inclinations such as, greed, power, lust, fraud, manipulation, gossip, backstabbing and the multitude of other harmful attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that undermine a culture. If those attitudes, beliefs and behaviors seep into your culture, the requisite injustices are sure to follow – as are the stinging Glassdoor comments. Even a cursory glimpse of human history will quickly show the vices that vex all humans have been around forever – all rooted in the human ego. Wealth, pleasure, honor, power are all outflows of ego. And no one is free. When working with your business, HR, and Compliance leaders, keep a constant and lively dialog about those attitudes, beliefs, behaviors you are unwilling to tolerate and make sure these leaders clearly understand your position. Topics you talk about frequently (propagate), as well as the attitudes you hold, ultimately will seep into your culture and take hold…just like the racist propaganda seeped into generations of Americans and Arianism seeped into an entire nation. You need to “out propagate” those attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that lead to injustice!
Leadership principle of transcendence: For starters, connecting to the transcendent has the power to elevate. It unifies and harmonizes effort to a greater good. Something bigger, something beyond ourselves – outside our individual egos and beyond our individual desires for wealth, pleasure, honor and power. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – one man – pointed to the transcendent and changed the world. Mother Teresa – one woman – connected to the transcendent and changed the world. I promise this idea can be powerful for business leaders as well. Transcendence = that which resides outside or beyond.
For the organization, transcendence is a focus on something that sits outside of the organization – namely the customer. If organizations focus all their efforts on profits or shareholder value (which are internal to the organization) they stand to miss their customers and create an internal culture centered on individual ego. Remaining tethered to your (transcendent) customers is precisely the idea that will create a culture that minimizes the individual ego – and thus minimizes the requisite injustices. The result will be maximized profits and shareholder value. Our business culture today has this backwards.
For individual leaders, the trick is to point the day-to-day drudgery of your employee’s effort to something bigger, something beyond, something worth fighting for; no, not YOUR bonus, not YOUR target, not YOUR promotion – but about the (transcendent) customer. Focus every effort on the value their labor brings to the customer. Employees will fight much harder for customers than they ever will for you. Employees often lament “working for the man.” Where do you think that comes from? Not an organization that is intimately connected to its customers. Connect everything to the transcendent (customer) and profits and shareholder value will follow as will your bonus and promotion. I have written more extensively about transcendence in this article: Transcendence.
Be intolerant (please do not misinterpret this); Be transcendent; Be culturally unified; Be financially remarkable.