On my first day at a major auto manufacturer, I was handed a ticket to fly to Western Pennsylvania with the task to shut down the office of a software company we had bought and move the operations to Cleveland, Ohio. It was not easy to walk into that office for the first time as I was there to put most of the people there out of a job. I approached it with the belief that when treated with dignity and respect, people will respond with their best.
I met regularly with the team and individuals; I asked what they were worried about the most and what I could do to help them in their next career steps. Unexpectedly, their biggest concern was that we would take too long in moving the operations and leave them in a “morgue” waiting to die. The impacted teams and I approached the plan together. We laid out what we needed and then worked on meeting the joint objectives. Their needs were expedited closure, strong transitional support and a plan that ensured that their customers would be taken care of as the business was moved to the new location. The only difference between their needs list and mine, was that I needed to come in on budget. Because we were able to move the transition up, I was able to negotiate to have extra money committed to the closure invested in improved exit packages and support services. Because the employees had the input and support, they were strongly committed to training the new staff and completing the necessary transition documentation.
When we finally closed the offices and transitioned the business to Cleveland, I actually received several thank you notes for “treating them like human beings”.
Now for those who think a standard of treating all with dignity and respect is somewhat soft; this project was brought in early, under budget, and with an increase in customer satisfaction. (Mic Drop)
One day, I was driving to work and listening to an NPR interview of Mac Bledsoe, author, educator and father of football player Drew Bledsoe. Mac was discussing his book, Parenting with Dignity, and a key life event in developing his parenting philosophy.
While in the military, Lt. Mac Bledsoe was stationed in the south and worked with an African American woman who was known for always treating people with respect and dignity regardless of their position or race. One night the KKK burned a cross in Shirley’s front yard. The next day, Shirley came into the office and continued to treat everyone, including a Sergeant who was a reputed KKK member, with her usual respect and dignity. Mac watched her throughout the day and could not understand how, after the hateful and frightening events of the night before, Shirley could still work with the same level of professionalism. So he asked her. Her response was, “Oh, Lieutenant Bledsoe, that’s easy. In our family we are respectful and dignified, not because the people around us are acting respectful and dignified but because we are.”
This story has stayed with me over time, and in fact helped define a key part of who I am and want to be as a person. It has also provided a wonderful example of the legacy I would like to leave with our next generation. (Yep! That’s you; Guy, Carl, Jesse, Sean, Taylor, Jacie, Kyler, Jameson, Flannery, Honora, Xavier, Phoenix, and Alaya.)
As each of you move through life you will undoubtedly meet people who act with hatred, bigotry or just plain old “Assholeness”. You will get angry. You will want to yell, get in their face, get personal, or even get physical. In that moment, it will be very easy to forget who you are and to respond with equal emotion. Some of my biggest regrets have come from moments where, under the cover of “righteousness”, I chose to respond with anger, losing myself and my point at the same time.
In that nanosecond between the event and your response, you have a choice. Take a deep breath, THINK, and ask yourself, “Who do I want to be?” Then act accordingly.