Difference of Opinion, Not a Difference of Principle

| May 23, 2013 | 0 Comments

Its soul, its climate, its equality, liberty, laws, people, and manners. My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!”  – Thomas Jefferson.


American-FlagJefferson was describing our culture. Culture defines who we are, what we believe, what we will accept and what we will fight for – to the very end.

I am going to digress a bit. This was to be a follow-up to my last newsletter on organizational culture, based on the Denison Culture Survey, a tremendous assessment. I am however, compelled to enter into a different sort of dialogue with you. Culture evolves and not by accident. Its seeds are planted by the leadership of an organization and then nurtured by the quality of an organization’s followers. Do not be mistaken, the essence of culture is not happenstance. It grows based on the decisions and actions of leaders and management. Our employees watch, they listen, they observe and they interpret our actions. They read the tea leaves provided by those above and around them. They make assessments; solidifying their judgments about the culture of the company,  organization or government. What it stands for, what it will tolerate and what it will not tolerate. What it will truly invest in and what it only provides lip service to. The collective group consciously and subconsciously acts on these assessments. Actions of those many followers of our leaders – department heads, managers and workers represent what leaders have put into motion. Leaders should not be surprised by the actions of staff. With few exceptions, it is the leader’s actions that define our beliefs.

A flourishing culture at its foundation has  trust. “Trust is a subtle state between two people formed from an assessment of each other’s internal motives and external actions – if either are questionable trust does not gel.” – Ira Chaleff.

I was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in Northern Virginia. I was fortunate to be surrounded by reminders of our remarkable history. I believe in the power of good government; one that serves the people. I believe that people who serve in our political system should be motivated by a call to service. I also believe in Jefferson’s sentiment that, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” I am a registered Democrat. I vote on both sides of the aisle, whether it is an issue of representation or policy.

We have been witnessing the stark display of a federal culture that does a great disservice to our history. It is fundamentally lacking in trust and integrity. Who is responsible for such degradation of our precious institution of democracy? Look in the mirror. We are all responsible. We are all accountable. America has risen up as a culture of extremists only in extreme situations – the American Revolution and the Civil War as examples. We are, however, most comfortable as a culture of centrist. We allow for different perspectives. We have been blessed with a mix of cultures that have broadened our thinking, our innovative spirit, our willingness to embrace the possible. The far right and far left do not truly symbolize ‘us’. They may take up an inordinate amount of air time, but they are not ‘us’. Think about the Revolutionary War. Many a farmer risked his life for the principle of freedom, but if he survived the war, he went back to farming. There is precious perspective in that action. Courage to stand and fight for what is right and then to go about what is important.

When I look at a company’s culture with a management team, I look at four broad areas:

1. Mission – the vision

2. Consistency – core values, adherence to fundamental agreements

3. Involvement – level of empowerment

4. Adaptability – the ability to positively embrace change

These are critical elements for a company – and they are critical elements for our country.

Borrowing from Ira Chaleff’s, The Courageous Follower, “We must stand up to and for our leaders.” Look in the mirror. What can we do today, tomorrow and the next day? It’s not easy, but oh so worth the effort.

Post Script: I am deeply humbled by the culture of Moore, Oklahoma. May we all have them and the emergency personnel in our thoughts and prayers. And, may we hope that the strength of their culture inspires our nation.

  Take care,

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Category: Leadership, Newsletters


About the Author ()

Julia Hill-Nichols, SPHR, is the founder of LeadersCove, LLC. With over 30 years experience in operations and human capital management, Julia is gifted in the art and science of bridging strategic imperatives and a company’s human capabilities—executing for success, meeting bottom-line objectives and enlivening the people who are the organization’s lifeblood.

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