In her latest book, Leading with Dignity, author Donna Hicks shared ten elements of dignity that caught my attention. With permission, I would like to share the ten elements which she derived from her research and interviews.
Her book is well-worth the read for anyone interested in leadership. Here are the ten elements from the book answering the question:
What does it look like to treat people with dignity?
Approach people as being neither inferior nor superior to you; give others the freedom to express their authentic selves without fear of being negatively judged; interact without prejudice or bias, accepting that characteristics such as race, religion, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, and disability are at the core of their identities.
Validate others for their talents, hard work, thoughtfulness, and help; be generous with praise; give credit to others for their contributions, ideas, and experience.
“Praise, like sunlight, helps all things to grow.” -Croft Pentz
When a copy of Leading with Dignity landed on my desk, I was intrigued for a couple reasons. First, the author, Donna Hicks PhD, did not fit the profile of a typical business management book author. Her background is in international conflict resolution—she has, for 25 years—worked in some of the most conflict-ridden areas of the world, including Northern Ireland, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Syria, and the Middle East. What is a conflict resolution specialist doing writing a book about business leadership? I wondered and was excited to learn more. I love learning from non-traditional approaches and a different perspective.
Second, the word “dignity” intrigued me. Dignity can be perceived as a soft, abstract idea. It’s not a standard buzzword in conversations about workplace and company culture. Yet, Hicks says that an understanding of dignity and how to honor it is an essential role to good leadership. In the book, she highlights three components of leading with dignity: what one must know in order to honor dignity and avoid violating it; what one must do to lead with dignity; and how one can create a culture of dignity in any organization, whether corporate, religious, governmental, healthcare, or beyond.
She uses hundreds of interviews, research in psychology, and real-life case studies to illustrate how leaders and managers can better understand dignity and transform their workplaces.
We spoke about her research.
“The most toxic workplaces in which I have consulted are those with unaddressed and unacknowledged dignity violations and the gossip network is alive and functioning well.” -Donna Hicks
What’s your definition of dignity? What does it look like to treat someone with dignity?
My definition of dignity is simple; it is our inherent value and worth. We are all born with it. At the same time, we are born vulnerable to having it injured, just like a physical injury. From my research, I have developed the Ten Elements of Dignity, ten ways to honor it in ourselves and others: Acceptance of Identity–people want to be treated well no matter their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation; recognition—for their hard work and a job well done; safety—make people feel safe both physically and psychologically so they feel free from humiliation; acknowledgment—for the suffering they have endured if treated badly; fairness—to be treated in an even-handed way; inclusion—make people feel a sense of belonging; understanding—don’t rush to judgment; give people a chance to share their perspective; independence—avoid micro-managing; benefit of the doubt—treat people as if they were trustworthy; and accountability—apologize when you have caused someone harm.
“The most exciting breakthroughs of the twenty-first century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.” -John Naisbitt
What do most people get wrong when thinking about it?
The most common misconception about dignity is that it is the same as respect. Dignity and respect are very different. Dignity is something we are born with—our inherent value and worth. We don’t have to do anything to have dignity. Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity, no matter what they do. Respect, on the other hand, has to be earned. If I say I respect someone, she or he has done something special to deserve my admiration. I say to myself, “I want to be like that person. She is a role model for me.”
“The price of greatness is responsibility.” -Winston Churchill
You may think about one of those designer shows on TV that completely redecorates a living space. Perhaps you think of designing consumer products with packaging that enhances a brand. I think of Steve Jobs and his famous quote: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” –Steve Jobs
Design isn’t just for products. It’s also for lives. Designing a life that serves others is a worthy goal.
And, if something isn’t serving us well, we can redesign it and everything changes.
BJ Miller has a unique perspective on redesign that caught my attention. He wants to redesign dying. As a palliative care physician and long term patient, his ideas are both personal and professional. His story is compelling. While climbing a commuter train with some buddies in college, he was electrocuted, severely burned, and lost three limbs. Today, he specializes in end-of-life care at the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco. His purpose is to serve others by helping them die with dignity and grace, with no regrets or undue suffering.
“Design is a solution to a problem. Art is a question to a problem.” –John Maeda
Hospitals were not designed as a place to live and die. Healthcare providers mean well, but when someone dies in a sterile hospital setting among the beeping of the background noise and the bright fluorescent lights, the body is wheeled away, and there remains a numbness. It feels like the world should stop for a moment because a life was lost, but instead the room is quickly prepped for the next patient.
“We have a monumental opportunity before us…to redesign how it is we die.” –BJ Miller
With planning, end of life can bring us closer through compassion. There is not a magic reset button for end of life; there are no do-overs. In this TED Talk, B.J. Miller lays out real life examples of human connection through our senses. When one of the residents dies at the Zen Hospice Project, the body is wheeled through the garden. Songs and stories are shared while flower petals are placed on the body. Mourning is guided in with warmth.
It’s a beautiful redesign of the inevitable.
“Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” -Jeffrey Zeldman