Monday, February 27, 2012

How to Talk About Character in a Meeting

What a supervisor or a CEO talks about at meetings says a lot about his or her priorities. But it’s not easy to talk about personal integrity issues. So we’ll try to address some of the challenges here.At one of Kimray’s employee meetings last month, Kimray president Thomas A. Hill introduced the character quality of availability this way.

Adopt an attitude of humility and gentleness.
Because character issues usually involve personal issues, such as a person’s work habits and attitude toward relationships, discussing a character quality can cause some uncomfortable moments. And this situation becomes particularly difficult when we don’t talk about integrity until a problem gets so big that action has to be taken.A leader’s humility and sincerity profoundly influence the way his or her message will be received. A leader must learn to speak from “beside” colleagues, not above or opposite them.

This approach means speaking about “our commitment to integrity” instead of saying “I want you to do this;” it means holding himself or herself publicly accountable to the same standards required of others, and it means speaking in a way that shows why gratitude and tolerance and justice matter.Be immediate so that you can be persuasive.

Another challenge involves the way we see ourselves. We tend to think of good character and of our character flaws in the abstract; we don’t set out to be lazy or arrogant or insensitive; and we blame other people or the situation for the negative ways we react.A leader can make character issues concrete by giving examples from his or her life—particularly from his or her struggles—and by observing good character in others. A leader can also discuss the ethical ramifications of a decision the organization faces. This approach helps everyone in the organization think about decisions less in terms of workplace politics and more in terms of personal integrity.Many departments or teams have regular meetings to discuss safety and other operational things. A leader might ask how each weeks issues could be addressed in terms of personal integrity.Stop lecturing and interact.

A leader shouldn’t try to have all the answers. The objective is to lead colleagues in a particular way of thinking, teaching them to examine their own attitudes and to ask themselves what is the right thing to do.To this end, a presenter can draw analogies to objects, use a whiteboard to write out application ideas, or hang character posters around the workplace. But nothing replaces applying the concepts together in real life. So a presenter should introduce the concept as clearly as possible and then start a conversation about how the concept applies in this workplace or in these situations.Character First materials focus on that critical relationship between an individual and his or her immediate colleagues, providing a common vocabulary, articulating a standard, and giving supervisors various ways to discuss the principles of good character.
Whatever materials you use, take the everyday opportunities to challenge yourself and others to do the right thing.

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