Lead with Dignity
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
Born to be Vulnerable
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.”