Doing the right thing when everyone IS watching

Do The Right Thing, Even When No One Is Watching: It’s Called Integrity
Do The Right Thing, Even When No One Is Watching: It’s Called Integrity

A few days ago I had cause to focus on three values very dear to me, fairness, integrity, and bravery.

I’m very familiar with the C.S. Lewis quote above. It is one reason why I love to play golf, it is the only major sport I know of where players call their own penalties, there is nobody watching to see if you play by the rules. Players must be of integrity when nobody is watching.

Today though, I’m considering, from a stance of leadership, what it means to do the right thing when everyone is watching.

So, what would you do if you if you saw someone being unfairly treated on account of their difference to the “norm”. Perhaps their gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, nationality?

We’d all like to say that we would stand up for the unfairly treated person, act, speak out.

To do so takes integrity to our values, it takes a strong sense of fairness to drive us to act, and it also takes some degree of bravery as to take stand might put us at risk, even if that risk is simply to put ourselves in the limelight for a moment.

In the recent case, what I observed was a small example of the types of subtle racism that is insidious and deeply rooted in society. It was simple. Someone was waiting to be served at a bar in London and I watched the bartender scan across the people waiting and instead serve someone white. I had observed closely and felt that this was unconscious, but they had glanced the way of the black customer, then scanned to the white customer and served them first. Again, it did feel unconscious.

Yes, I could have let it go, as he did then serve the black customer next, but I chose not to. After he had served one more waiting customer, I asked him to come to the side of the bar and I told him what I had noticed. I was calm, quiet, tactful. To his credit, the bartender took it on board and was apologetic. What also happened was that my action was noticed and remarked upon by a few others at the bar.

This is a tiny example of every action to stand up for fairness.

Do we as humans always act when others are watching? Honestly? Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we rationalise that the cost or simply risk to us is too high. See a colleague bullied but don’t want to stand up in case we are singled out by that bullying manager? See evidence that a major client mistreats their workers but keep serving them as your job depends on it?

None of us can honestly say that we have never compromised our values, our integrity, yet for leaders, the stakes are higher. Leaders are always under scrutiny from multiple angles.

My thought today for leaders is that, rather than consider this as being something that can have you feel pressure, you can also choose to take that scrutiny as an opportunity to send a signal.

Whenever you get a chance to do the right thing, do it. When it is authentic to do it publically, do that too, as you can send a powerful example of what “doing the right thing” is in your organisation.

To finish, as Martin Luther King and others said, and derived from Dante’s “the neutrals”:

The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict

When times get tough, take a stand, and do it publically.

Integrity, Fairness, Bravery.

Qualities I’d definitely want to see in any leader I choose to follow.

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