values don't pass the smell test

When he spotted his grandpa asleep on the family room couch, the rambunctious ten-year-old saw his chance. With cat-like stealth, Lucas quietly crept up on grandpa and gently smeared a small bit of smelly old cheese into his moustache. As grandpa mumbled and stirred, Jason bolted from the room.

Peeking around the corner, Lucas fought hard to contain himself as he watched grandpa open his eyes and take a sniff of the air. “Whew! This room stinks”, grandpa exclaimed. Rising from the couch, he went into the front hall. “The house stinks,” grandpa declared as he went out the front door into the yard. Watching grandpa take a few deep whiffs of the air, Lucas lost it. He burst out laughing as grandpa bellowed, “The whole world stinks.”

Our principles, values, or beliefs are the lens through which we see the world. We then find the evidence and examples to prove our point of view. If our behavior sometimes smells a little — we fudge the numbers, cut ethical corners, or stretch the truth — we assume (and often justify our behavior with) “everybody else is doing it.” Then we notice just how many other people are doing the same — their behavior stinks.

If people with this mindset become managers, he or she will build on their assumptions and experiences by putting rules and practices in place to catch the “stinkers.” As psychologist and personal effectiveness coach, Peter Jensen, puts it, “Most of what we see in others is what we project from ourselves.”

We don’t see — or smell — the world as it is. There is no objective reality. We see — and sniff test — the world as we are.

Tomorrow we publish my weekly September blogs in the October of The Leader Letter. The first blog in this issue started with a request to contribute to a leadership book on boosting productivity and reducing turnover. My next blog answered a question on motivational techniques. I then had a request for a magical makeover to transform a team in one or two wondrous workshops into highly trusted leaders. By my fourth blog, it was clear the emerging issue in those first three blogs were the behaviors and organizational culture reflecting the true core values of the leaders.

Values, like weather, are much talked about. Unlike weather, much can be done to turn talk about values into action. With awareness and determined effort, values can move from good intentions to sustained implementation. New habits and cultural norms can be locked in.

Values determine how leaders deal with today’s chaos and uncertainty. As 19th century Spanish author, Carlos Reyles put it, “Principles are to people what roots are to trees. Without roots, trees fall when they are thrashed with the winds of the pampas. Without principles, people fall when they are shaken by the gales of existence.”

May the last month of weekly blogs (or our October newsletter) help to deepen your roots.