Integrity Matters
March 7, 2007

Civility does begin at the top

Question: (E-281)

Dear Jim:

How does one teach civility? And, even when successful at it, will it generate profits?


Civility is taught by example - and it will create positive cash flow, if by "cash" one can expand the definition to increased productivity and reduced stress in relationships. Character, when combined with compassion, creates an environment that is civil - thoughtful, safe, clear and supportive, whether at home, on the job or in daily interactions. Those fortunate enough to experience this special "civil" atmosphere feel valued, gaining a special positive energy as a consequence. Constructive energy encourages legendary customer service, consistently high performance standards and mutual trust, along with higher productivity and profits.

Because the most effective teaching is by personal example, then civility is learned by the careful observation and thoughtful emulation of those who exhibit the right types of admired behaviors. Whether those responsible are parents, supervisors, public figures or classroom role models, adults are accountable for what they say and how they say it. Each of us is being measured, all the time, by how we handle our stewardship of values for those who depend upon us for guidance. The popular phrase is simply "walk the talk."

Teaching civility means leading in constructive ways:

  • Motivate with public praise, pinpointing productive contributions
  • Criticize in private and keep the focus on actions instead of the individual.
  • Listen carefully, seek clarity, confirm perceptions, and only then offer push back.
  • Leverage the honest words of "please," "thank you" and "I am sorry I made a mistake."
  • Smile, encouraging others frequently and showing enthusiasm and confidence.
  • Avoid sarcasm and zingers, as they tear down more than they build up
  • Build a team culture with mutual commitments to always lend a hand.
  • Acknowledge weaknesses and mistakes, making openness a reality, not a theory.
  • Address divisive, productivity-eroding issues, making sure team members:
    • understand the required skill sets to make their team productive;
    • are valued by and bring value to the organization;
    • are committed to the vision, mission and strategy;
    • are signed on to the organization's supported behavior and culture.

Profitable organizations retain individuals who exhibit congruence between what they say and what they do, as well as what they say about what they did. Leaders of productive organizations are open, honest, trusting, caring and even vulnerable. Since they cannot do everything, they ask colleagues for assistance and support. Civil behavior, at its most basic, confirms the following: "People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but, they will always remember how you made them feel." Civility and integrity matter!

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