Wow! You’re Saying That Was Wrong?

In the United States we’re experiencing a dramatic shift in our values. As numerous commentators have observed, sexual harassment that has been tolerated for many, many years is no longer being tolerated. Consequently, for very good reasons numerous organizations are implementing training programs about sexual harassment. The subject of the post is: Do we really think that the root cause of sexual harassment is lack of education about what harassment is or whether it’s acceptable behavior?

Sexual harassment is a specific instance of someone misusing his power to mistreat another individual simply because he can get away with it. When a man invites a women to his hotel room to discuss business and then parades around the room naked and demands sex – do we really believe that he mistakenly thinks this is morally acceptable behavior?

The men accused of sexual harassment often deny they did it. But they never defend themselves with the following type of response: (Slaps his forehead)“I didn’t know that forcing a woman to have sex against her will was wrong!” Or, “Wow! You’re telling me that exposing myself is wrong? Who knew?!”

Of course they know it’s wrong. That’s why they go to great lengths to cover it up.

The education people need in this area must begin with toddlers. Don’t hit. Don’t bite. Don’t mistreat others because you’re bigger and stronger than they are.

The men who do this know it’s wrong. There will always be people who think they can get away with it. The education they need is that women are now more likely to speak out. And organizations are less likely to tolerate it. The risk of being punished has just gone up dramatically. I’m hopeful that the deterrent effect of probable punishment will reduce the frequency of sexual harassment.

This is a lesson that’s more likely to be learned the hard way, rather than from a seminar.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg


Larry Sternberg

How Important Is Moral Authority?

Moral authority is not discussed very frequently, but lately we’ve heard a lot of talk about it, particularly in relation to President Trump. Does he have it? Is he losing it? Does it even matter? This post, however, is not about Donald Trump. It is about why people want their leaders to have moral authority, and by extension, why you should strive to earn it.

Let’s start with some clarity about what I mean by the term “moral authority”. Moral authority is not about having the power to force people to follow one’s lead. It is the ability to influence people through the virtue of one’s character, the strength of one’s example, and the wisdom of one’s words.

We expect leaders to articulate a vision for the future. A vision statement inherently involves a moral stance because it’s always about the “ought”. Here are just a few examples: Ought we build an oil pipeline through sacred lands? Ought we legalize marijuana? Ought we remove statues of heroes of the Confederacy? The more I think about this topic, the more I’m inclined to believe that moral authority is the most important aspect of leadership.

Leaders who earn moral authority also gain legitimacy. People follow that leader because they want to, not because they are being coerced or threatened. People want a leader they can look up to. People want a leader whose principles are clear and who has the courage to act with integrity to those principles, even when doing so requires personal sacrifice. People want a leader who can explain events so they can understand what’s going on and what it means. People want a leader who will help them see what is the right thing to do and why it’s the right thing to do. People want a leader who puts the well-being of others ahead of the leader’s self-interests.

Leaders who gain moral authority exert enormous influence on others. They cause people to strive to be better. They tap in to each person’s reservoir of discretionary effort. They inspire hope. They give people the confidence that the team is striving for the right goals for the right reasons, and that they are pursuing those goals in a way they can be proud of.

Leaders who earn moral authority can make a huge difference in the lives of their people. I hope you choose to become one of those leaders.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

What Is The Relationship Between Courage and Integrity?

Muhammad Ali, hero of the 20th century, died last night. If you’re too young to remember his story, I encourage you to read a couple of the many articles recapping his inspiring journey. As you will learn, his record-shattering accomplishments as a boxer are overshadowed by his impact as an agent for social change. Reflecting on what we can learn from Ali, in this post I discuss the relationship between integrity and courage.

In common conversation the word “integrity” is most often associated with honesty. But that’s a very narrow understanding of the concept. In addition to honesty, integrity is about being whole and unimpaired. We can speak about the integrity of a roof or a ship’s hull. When a structure can remain unimpaired in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors, that structure has strong integrity.

When it comes to a person, integrity involves the ability to remain true to one’s values in the face of pressure, assaults or stressors. We know little about the strength of a person’s integrity when life is easy. What if it will cost you your job? What if you’ll lose some friends? What if you’ll go to jail? What if you’ll get beat up — or worse? We only learn about the strength of a person’s integrity when things get tough, when adhering to those values involves a high cost.

When we think about integrity in this way, the relationship between integrity and courage is revealed. Courage involves the willingness to move forward despite the probable costs. When things get tough, when costs are high, living with strong integrity requires a great deal of courage.

This is but one lesson we can learn from the life of Muhammad Ali. The costs of maintaining his integrity were very high, but his courage never waivered. He bore those costs willingly. That’s why he became a hero.

Thanks for reading. As always I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Is It Really Better To Ask For Forgiveness…?

I’ve been hearing this way too often lately. “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” It’s catchy. It sounds just enough like wisdom to pass for wisdom. But does it have any substance? Does it give us any moral guidance?

I hope no one believes it’s always better to ask for forgiveness. That would justify, for example, date rape in cases where consent was not clear. So let’s consider the statement, “It’s sometimes better to ask forgiveness…”

But this statement is fraught with questions. How do we know whether this situation is one of the sometimes where asking for forgiveness is better? What do we mean by better? Better for whom?

Here’s a headline from an article in today’s issue of my local newspaper: “Native site may delay $3.8B pipeline”. A Native American archeological site has been discovered during the construction of an oil pipeline. Delay costs a lot of money. Should the pipeline company bulldoze right through and then ask for forgiveness? (Assume the penalty would be a fine rather than an order to stop the pipeline completely.)

Your answer reveals something about your value system. In all cases, when you’re asking this question you’re in a situation where you’re contemplating doing something that you believe A) is deemed to be wrong (or at least questionable), or B) will not be well received by certain people. Then you do a cost/benefit analysis. Once I take this action, does the probable benefit outweigh the probable cost to me?

For instance, suppose you have an opportunity to close a very large sale, but the prospect wants a delivery date that the production and service people will view as completely out of the question. Do you call them to discuss it, or do you promise the delivery date and close the deal? You know they’ll be pissed off, but you know you won’t get fired. You’ll get your anatomy chewed and they’ll have to figure it out. Again, your decision reveals something about your value system.

It’s also important to understand that this decision does not take place in a vacuum. There’s always a context. How often do you make decisions where you choose to ask for forgiveness? Is this a truly rare situation, or are you constantly doing it? The more frequently you ask for forgiveness, the more likely your associates will realize you don’t care about them. You care about only what you want and what you can get away with.

I believe there are indeed times when it’s better to ask for forgiveness. Suppose, for instance, that your driver’s license is suspended and someone you’re with suffers a life-threatening injury. Do you drive them to the emergency room? Of course you do.

It seems to me that this issue boils down to a matter of frequency. You might be proud of boldly moving your agenda forward. But be careful; this is a slippery slope. If you too frequently act in ways that require forgiveness, people will know you don’t really care about them. They won’t trust you. They won’t respect you. In my opinion, that’s too high a price to pay. But, of course, that’s my value system.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

What Do You Say About Others When They’re Absent?

It’s so easy to criticize, to find fault, to tear others down – in large and small ways. How often do groups of employees go out after work and complain about the boss, or about other employees? This kind of activity is widespread. For some reason it feels good. But it certainly cannot be characterized as constructive. It increases negativity in the organization and hurts the people being discussed. This kind of behavior is most certainly not harmless. It does not reflect well on those who engage in it. There’s a reason people would not want their remarks shared with the targets, or with anyone else for that matter.

By the way, have you thought about what happens when you’re not present? Bulletin: you’re not in some special category that makes you immune. How much time would you like them to spend tearing you down?

I invite you to join me. Let’s quit doing this, and let’s quit condoning it. We’ll all grow in the process.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your comments.

Larry Sternberg