Do You Have the Wisdom to Know the Difference in Business and at Work?

Since the beginning of my HR career, a version of the affirmation below sits on or near my desk:

Grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

– Reinhold Niebuhr

It’s not just about serenity – and of all sources, sums it up nicely:

(It) casts light upon this simple concept even as it counsels tranquility in the face of matters we can do nothing about and bold, decisive moves in the face of those we can. It serves to clarify the thoughts of many during times of trouble when all is confusion, suffering, and doubt in that it provides an answer — or at least a tool that can be used to help find an answer — to what can be done and what cannot.

I find the above affirmation particularly helpful when dealing with people issues in the workplace that do not support organizational values or strategic goals, including but not limited to:

  • Poor work performance;
  • Poor communication skills;
  • Poor listening skills;
  • Chronically missing deadlines;
  • Disrespectful behavior between coworkers;
  • Poor customer service.

Because in the final analysis, we cannot change the behavior of another human being – that change must be self-driven.

And the wisdom to understand the difference between what you as a leader in your organization can change and what you can’t change in solving people issues is one of the keys to successful leadership, e.g. responding respectfully one adult to another, rather than reacting emotionally (or even worse, with the controlling belief that you can change another person’s behavior when in fact you can’t):

  • Spelling out the incentives and implications for good vs. poor work performance as choices for the team member to make;
  • Reflecting back the career risks that poor communications and/or listening skills can create (or are creating), and offering coaching help to improve, if the choice is to accept such help;
  • Laying out the strategic need to adhere to deadlines, and how missing deadlines puts both the organization and individual team members at earnings risk, and the clear choices each team member has to choose success rather than failure;
  • Explaining clearly that poor internal and external customer service is not acceptable conduct, and that team members have the choice to adhere to organization’s customer service standards, or leave the organization;
  • And most important of all: consistently following through on the results of whatever choice a team member makes (and the respective ramifications), positive or negative.

Do you have the wisdom to know the difference in business and at work?


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