Friday, August 5, 2016

the best of people and...

With apologies to Charles Dickens, organizations bring out the best of people and the worst of people.  I recently returned from the triennial convention of my church body, and one of the favorite sayings at that gathering is that conventions exhibit the church at its best and the church at its worst.  And of course, that doesn't surprise me, because the church is made of people, just as are all organizations and institutions.  We (especially we as leaders) tend to believe that if we do everything right, hire the best people, and have a fantastic mission and product everything will be smooth - and people will act in a manner that is always good, right, and salutary (to borrow an expression from the church's liturgy).  Here's the problem...institutions, organizations, and even churches do not exist without people, and when people gather together, they will behave in a manner which brings out the best of them and the worst of them.

So if this is true, and leaders want to create an organization where the best behavior is maximized and the worst behavior minimized, what can they do?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • accept the fact that this is true and don't be schocked or dismayed when people behave badly.  Don't see them as the devil incarnate or doing everything within their power to destroy the organization.  This is how people are.
  • almost all bad behavior is a result of passions lived out to the extreme,  Few people in organizations behave badly just to behave badly. They believe (and sometimes they are right) that their actions are exactly what is needed for the organization to get better.  And aren't those the type of people we really want working for us - those who are trying to improve the organization?
  • get very clear on values and what type of behaviors are expected within the organization or institution.  Being able to point out how the organization has agreed to behave helps to curb extreme bad behavior and can channel one's ideas toward more positive actions.
  • do not take another person's behavior personally, especially if it is not directly related to you.  When people act unkindly toward a project or idea we have proposed (or spent hours working on) we want to personalize someone's action against it.  Pause for a moment and remember that not everything is about you.
  • confront bad behavior quickly and in a non-threatening manner.  When someone acts in a way that you believe is hurting the organization, go to them and ask them about it.  Find out what they are feeling and why they are acting the way they do.  You might just learn something that is helpful to the institution.
  • assume that they may be right...and that you (or the organization) may be wrong.  Imagine the power of going to someone who has behaved badly and letting them know that their ideas are right and that the organization will be changing how it does things based on what they believed to be right.  You suddenly have a new best friend.
  • understand that sometimes a person's bad behavior will be destructive to an organization and, if that behavior does not stop, they need to be removed.  Asking someone who is unhappy and bitter within their role to move on may just be the best thing for the organization and for the individual involved.  It is always better to deal for the next 30 days with any fallout that might occur from that dismissal rather than put up with the bad behavior for another 365 days.
Finally, take the time to reflect back on the numerous times YOU were the one behaving badly because you believed you were doing and saying the right things for the health of the organization.  You were probably at your best...and you were probably at your worst, both at the exact same time. That's how life is within organizations...because organizations are made up of people.

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