This is where you and I will take a left turn on our journey together.
You might recognize many — if not all — of the first seven foundational values that I have discussed to date. Many of them have been written about by other people individually or in combination with other values over the years (but not, to my knowledge, in this particular package).
There is one foundational value, however, that you have not seen before, and that is this, our eighth and final value, which is willingness.
Many businesspeople I’ve met over the years are fond of scouring the New York Times and Amazon nonfiction bestseller lists to find the next great management and leadership book. It’s always illuminating to walk into an office and see these perfectly-squared tomes lined up on an executive’s bookcase, perched alongside their children’s photos, both seemingly there to evoke a powerful reminiscence of a moment of self-realization.
I do not cherish many of these books, and I don’t have a long list to recommend. There are just a small handful that I believe are worthwhile. If I had to choose one — and only one — to offer any leader, it would have to be Marshall Rosenberg’s groundbreaking book on Nonviolent Communication.
(For more information on Nonviolent Communication, aka NVC, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_Communication.)
This is not a book that I have ever seen on any other executive’s bookshelf (well, without my prompting). And I ask myself sometimes: why is that the case? Well, here’s where our left turn comes in.
The world of business is all-too-often a macho culture, filled with macho terms. Every time I go to a conference, there is always at least one keynote speaker — sometimes a famous sports figure — using words like:
These terms make me a little sick inside. Why is that? Why should a term like “courage” — lovingly embraced by none other than Brené Brown, one of a handful of people who really appreciate the importance of vulnerability — make me feel like I am coming down with the flu?
They are macho terms, and they are positioned in our brains to displace the notion of weakness to one degree or another, as if weakness were something to be avoided. If you grew up as I did — a nerd, an outcast, a “wuss” — these terms might have been thrown at you as values you should nurture and embrace. And in that sense, these terms would have been a violent affront to your inner world, as they were to mine.
In my mind, when I would hear things like this, all I could think was, “Ah, sure, I should just go beat them up. Right. That will solve everything… Sure.”
I believe that most people who use macho language do so innocently, but I do not believe that people typically take the time to ponder how dismissive this language can be. When was the last time you heard someone say, “she had balls!”? What did you think when you heard that? Is having “balls” supposed to be a compliment to a woman? Why is that?
I believe that there is a feeling or value that many of these people want to communicate, but I do not think that they have found a non-violent word.
So, I offer willingness.
What is willingness, and how is it different from, say, courage?
With the word willingness, we can have a discussion about doing something to move forward that honors, rather than diminishes, the value of your fear or your lack of courage. Willingness is a quiet value. It is understated. It is not showy, and it does not pretend to diminish the marianismo that is in us.
It’s OK to be afraid. It’s OK to lack courage. It’s OK not to have balls, or to not desire power. There is actually potential value in each of those positions. For example, if you lack courage, it might be because there is a real risk to you in doing something, and by honoring that risk, you stand to broaden your palette of choices in approaching your problem.
Instead of macho language, we can ask ourselves:
Are we willing to change ourselves?
Are we willing to throw out what we have done in favor of a new approach?
Are we willing to have a difficult conversation?
Are we willing to slow down?
Are we willing to stop?
Are we willing to wait?
Are we willing to go?
Are we willing to care about others?
Are we willing to be vulnerable?
Are we willing to admit what we don’t know?
Are we willing to commit?
All of this feels decisively less macho — ultimately, less violent — than we are used to feeling in business culture. I suggest that this approach has great utility, because if we can talk in a way that does not put people on edge about their valid feelings of weakness, we create a vastly larger opportunity to bring about the progress we so often seek.
In the end, it is important to me that the values we discuss in The Progressive CIO are nonviolent.
What macho — what violent — words do you find yourself using from day to day?
Most importantly, are you willing to review how you speak, and to identify friendlier alternatives?
🎹 Music for this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZ1glxX1BiQ.