Lifestyle

How to be a truly inspirational
leader

Part 2 - No Double Standards

(This is an 8-part series on leadership by Rajita Bagga.)

Dear readers,

It’s great to be back with you in week 2! How was your week? I had a memorable and busy week, celebrating the 7th Commencement Day of Sri Sri University. Close to 1,800 students started their new academic year across 25 programs in a flurry of activity and excitement of new beginnings.

It has been wonderful to get your feedback and insights from reading the part 1 of the 8-part series on “How to become a truly inspirational leader.” Thousands of you from around the world, from diverse professions, backgrounds, and age groups found the article engaging and resonating with your life. It was heartening for me to read your comments, especially from students who said that the article was helping them shape their thinking, and approach to leadership.

Many of you also expressed how the self-reflection tool was very useful for you. Some of you have even set up online working groups to study the article together and help each other with the self reflection tool. I am really very happy to hear this.

Reflection, Observation and Action Planning is critical to integrating change in our habits. Writing down consolidates and solidifies our experiences. Research shows that writing down improves chances of success substantially. By setting-up working groups to support each other in these 8 weeks, you have taken this initiative to the next level- collaborating to transform!The first quality “Walk the Talk” was about embodying what you believed in, the second quality is its expression in day-to-day leadership action.

Today, let’s move ahead in our journey and talk about the second quality that is important to become a truly inspirational leader.

The first quality “Walk the Talk” was about embodying what you believed in, the second quality is its expression in day-to-day leadership action - no double standards.

No Double Standards

One of the defining aspects of leadership is the need to take decisions. We take hundreds of decisions everyday. Some small and low value, some significant and high value. Some impact lives and futures. Some critical and complex. Some simple and straightforward. Anyone who has been in a leadership position will agree that not even the best education prepares us for the quality of decision-making. All in the nick of the moment. Where there are no black and white answers - most of the time. It is then that we need to choose the right shade of grey.

How then are we perceived just, objective, fair or biased, prejudiced, unfair?

Our ability to live by a strong value of justice and objectivity can become a foundation of our inspirational leadership.

No differentiation and discrimination. It requires great balance and dispassion. It also needs keen awareness, personal integrity, and courage. It can even give personal gain sometimes. Most technical situations we deal with, don’t demand this from us. It’s when we deal with people and adaptive problems that the subjectivity comes in.

How fair are we? Are our personal preferences, past experiences, biases, and norms affecting our leadership action? When faced with the same situation, are we favoring one person on our team over another? And how aware are we of why we are doing so? Do we have one rule for ourselves and one for others.

We get a chance to display this a hundred times a day! Do we apply every rule meant for our team to ourselves too?

A leader who displays double standards is not inspiring. S/he cannot foster an atmosphere of trust in the workplace. This behavior can slowly erode ethics at workplaces and gnaw at the very fabric of culture at work. If we look back in our lives, most of us have been subject to such behavior some time or the other. Remember how dejected, rejected, disappointed and confused it left us feeling?

Whereas a leader who is just and fair earns incredible respect and trust, not to mention a good night’s sleep for her/himself. It is easy to do if the leader is solid, else it is extremely difficult. Many of us must have experienced this as well - when someone stood up for us, for what was right, for what was just. It leaves a mark on our memory forever, making us feel valued, appreciated, respected, and nurtured.

I am personally faced with this dilemma on a daily basis. My decisions have such a huge impact on my team and stakeholders. Being fair and just are very important values for me.

Despite my most objective approach, sometimes the decisions I take have not been perceived as fair. The most difficult time was when I had to lay off members of my team (for no fault of theirs), but due to the downturn during the Great Financial Crisis. The time was so turbulent that despite my best intentions and effort to place them elsewhere, I was not perceived as fair. The environmental circumstances, mental states of people affected, the overall turbulence - all played a part in it. So, there are no easy answers. But the buck stopped at my desk.

So there are no easy answers.

I follow a rule of thumb that has always worked for me.

If I was in the shoes of the person being affected adversely due to my decision, would I still take the decision? If the answer is yes, I go ahead. If the answer is no, I go through the churn, no matter what and settle for the decision that comes out.

I am sure all of you may have been in such situations a number of times too.

Let’s work together to sharpen this skill in us - how to ensure there are no double standards in our leadership action.

Here is the Personal Reflection Tool for your use, to help you go deeper in your awareness of  whether or not you are living the second quality of truly inspirational leaders

Daily Personal Reflection Exercise

A) Do you think this quality is important in your leadership expression ? If yes, write down why in a few words.

B) i) Make a list of up to 3 areas where you feel you may have knowingly or unknowingly exhibited double standards to your team.

ii) Write down how you felt in those moments.

iii) Write down what biases/preferences / prejudices influenced you to favor one over the other.

iv) What effect did this have on the team/ stakeholders/people concerned?

Pause for a moment with your eyes closed.
Internalise this experience.

C) i) List down 3 instances where you haven't exhibited double standards.

ii) Write down the emotions/feelings you remember of those instances.

iii) Make a list of what obstacles you overcame within yourself to take this objective action.

iv) What effect did this have on the team/ stakeholders / people concerned?

Pause for a moment with your eyes closed.
Internalise this experience.

7-day action plan

A) i) For the above 3 where you feel you exhibited double standards, write down what you can change to ensure that you correct the situation.

ii) Is there something you can change now? Any amends you can make with people affected by your decisions? If yes, please do it.

(If you did this, heartiest congratulations! You overcame a difficult barrier in changing your behavior patterns!)

B) Identify ways you can enhance consistency in behavior to ensure you don't exhibit double standards.

May you inspire yourself and others! Have an inspirational week!

You can leave your feedback and experiences at @RajitaBagga and @ArtofLiving. You can also connect with the writer at rajita.kulkarni@gmail.com.

The writer is President, World Forum For Ethics in Business and Sri Sri University, Orissa (India). She is also a faculty with The Art of Living.

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