Monday, March 28, 2011

A more humanitarian way.

Tonight Neil Young accepted a humanitarian award on the Juno Awards.  Roughly paraphrased, he said look inside yourself and you can find a humanitarian.   He spoke about the musician's role in creating the conversation, building awareness and a speaking up and out.

This made me think.  What does it mean to be "humanitarian" if you can't carry a tune?

Here are some accepted definitions:

  • Humanitarianism is an ethic of kindness, benevolence and sympathy extended universally and impartially to all human beings. Humanitarianism has been an evolving concept historically but universality is a common element in its evolution. No distinction is to be made in the face of human suffering or abuse on grounds of gender, sexual orientation, tribal, caste, religious or national divisions.Humanitarianism can also be described as the acceptance of every human being for plainly just being another human, ignoring and abolishing biased social views, prejudice, and racism in the process, if utilized individually as a practiced viewpoint, or mindset.(Thank you Wikipedia)
  • One who is devoted to the promotion of human welfare and the advancement of social reforms; a philanthropist.(
I can't help but notice the word, Human, in humanitarian. Ergo, it must be about people treating people fairly, respectfully and with dignity.  (Lynn's definition).  

Isn't it strange that, as human beings, we still aspire to being "human" towards each other? What is the opposite of being "human"? 

In the context of every day people, how can we contribute to a more "humanitarian" way.
  • Making environmentally friendly choices.  
  • Turn off the lights. 
  • Turn down the heat. 
  • Help someone. 
  • Buy only what you need. 
  • Speak up for someone who is being treated badly.
  • Speaking out against discrimination.  
  • Do not tolerate bullying. 
  • Check your own opinions about others and how we express those opinions.  
But there is more we can do.  We can understand who our leaders are, and how and why they make decisions, and speak out in the ways we can. Through voting. Through choosing organizations that are responsible.  Through demanding more of ourselves and our leaders. 

In the political and business worlds, progressive leaders know that that being humanitarian is essential in contributing to a sustainable world.  Good leaders know how to do that.  Good leaders know it's their job. 

In business the term "Social Responsibility" is used to give structure to helping organizations bring the human side to business. Social responsibility is on its way up the corporate mountain of importance.  According the Conference Board, Social Responsibility is fast becoming part of the organization's governance. along with Enterprise Risk Management. 

 In a corporate organization, the Board sets the vision, which must express more than financial return, or to product dominance.  Good governance sets the values and lives the values in every decision. Good governance asks questions about how a given policy or direction can affect our most valuable resources, the people and the planet.  Good governance sets the path through defining and holding management to set of values. 

So what is the connection between Neil Young's humanitarian award, risk awareness and the socially responsible behavior of our leaders?

Good governance is the pinnacle of humanitarianism in the corporate setting. It holds leaders in high places accountable for their actions. It asks questions and listens critically to the answers. Good governance is about understanding the risks that the organization is both exposed to and exposing others to, and ensures risk is taken for the right reasons. 

So why is this important to recognize? That's where you and me and Neil Young come in. 

 As we, the regular song singing, rock star following masses sing along, we are in fact being educated and educating through our choices. We are increasing our level of consciousness.  We expect more from the people who make decisions about the way we are governed.   We draw the line by what we accept from our leaders. Therefore it is our responsibility to be socially responsible. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A hear the train coming

In my early management career, I attended the Queen's University Leadership course.  In that room with me were CEOs and executives from companies across Canada and into the United States. I was full of vision and good intentions. I wanted to learn how to be a good leader, and to be worthy of leading. From the stories and experiences that I learned, there are two things that I carry with me always:

  1. When things go awry, trust the CEO. 
  2. Values are those things for which you would stand in front of a moving train. 

I have come to learn over the past 9 years in management that the CEO is the embodiment of the corporate values. Values define how an organization reacts to challenge, change, communication and relationships.

My first CEO lesson was about the values of clarity and focus. He led through six strategic thrusts which any and all business activities had to support.  He also introduced an aggressive financial corporate goal (5 in 5).  We met it because clarity and focus are what people need to engage. He created a culture of engagement as a result, where people were treated with respect and their contributions honored.

My second CEO lesson was about the values of accountability and performance.  Under his leadership, I was hired to introduce corporate planning,  balanced scorecard, business line strategy and quarterly reporting.  His values of accountability and performance came through in the culture of leadership.  He used to say, "My job is to ask questions." We knew that he would ask, and that we had to do our homework.

I made sure I had covered all the bases and had a clear concept to present to him. If there was a problem, I would be prepared with a clear statement of the problem (ownership) and a solution (accountability). If there was something that I wanted to change in the process, such as quarterly reporting to the Board, I would be prepared with a clear statement of what needed to change, why, how and when.  I never took more than 5 minutes of his time at once, but I knew that I had his full support.

My third CEO lesson was about the values of humility and compassion.  She led with a "take the high road" philosophy, which was paved with 6 leadership principles. Through her leadership, she took the company from despair to possibility.  In a speech she gave, she said, "We were battered and bruised children."  She brought them out of the storm with principles and with a commitment to a new culture and a path for the future.

Through this journey of leadership and follower-ship, these values of clarity, focus, accountability, performance, humility and compassion have shaped not only my perspective on work and leadership, but they keep me on track, reminding me of the work that I have yet to do.