This post first appeared in my business column at AMEX.
There are literally thousands of books and articles written on the most desirable qualities of a leader. They run the gamut from adaptable to zealous. But one quality, above all, is fundamental to anyone who aspires to be a good leader. And this is simply to be a mensch. Whether you are a corporate, entrepreneurial, or political leader, being a mensch is the most important yardstick of great leadership. It is the true measure of any man or woman.
Mensch is a German word meaning human being, or person. In Yiddish, the word mensch has deep connotations. It describes a man (or a woman) of integrity, a decent person—one who always chooses to do the right thing in all of his undertakings. The guiding compass of a leader who is a mensch is “do no harm.” We have an innate sense that tells us when we are dealing with a mensch: it’s a person who will not try to cheat us, deceive us, or undermine us in any way. A mensch is a person in whose presence we feel safe.
Two of the hallmark qualities of a mensch are a disposition to be kind to others, and a genuine caring for one’s fellow man. A mensch has deep compassion: he understands the suffering of others and seeks to alleviate it. If there is one description that sums up what a mensch is, it is, that a mensch doesn’t have a pocket sized heart. To be called a mensch is the greatest compliment one can give you.
In his blog, Guy Kawasaki provides 5 tips on how to be a mensch. Here are a few more:
1. When someone has wronged you, continue to treat them with civility.
It’s the ultimate mark of a mensch.
2. Give way more than you take.
Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” It is the mensch way.
3. Genuinely acknowledge others.
Taking the time to give sincere praise shows a generosity of heart. It is high octane fuel for the soul.
4. Default to kindness.
The biggest deficit is not monetary—it is the lack of kindness in our interactions with others.
5. Embrace diversity.
Every person is a world. The uniqueness of each human being makes our communities a more beautiful place. The legendary Louis Armstrong referred to this as “the colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces of people going by.” See that rainbow.
The Roman philosopher, Seneca said: “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” Every day of our lives, we have an opportunity to show up as a mensch. Perhaps this is the most important resolution for the New Year for all of us.
“If you do not manage culture,” said Edgar Schein, MIT Sloan School of Management professor, ” it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.” Culture has a significant impact on a company’s long-term economic well-being: research has shown that it can account for nearly a third of financial performance. This is too high an impact to ignore.
An encrusted culture can sometimes impede a company’s adaptability and prevent it from changing course in order to capitalize on new opportunities or changes in the market place. When asked why a small start-up could build Instagram while Kodak, which now filed for bankruptcy protection could not, Kodak board member Michael Hawley said: “Cultural patterns are pretty hard to escape once you get sucked into them.”
What type of culture is right for the operational climate in your company? Let’s look at how many cultures there are. The Competing Values Framework, considered one of the fifty most important models in business, identified four types of organizational culture: hierarchy (or controlling;) market (or competitive;) adhocracy (or creative;) and clan (or collaborative.)
Hierarchy (“Do things right.”)
The hierarchy culture is concerned with stability, predictability, and efficiency. Clear lines of decision-making authority, standardized rules and procedures, and control are the way things are done here. This is an ideal culture if you are in a business where uniformity of products is expected and where the staff may be predominantly young with limited work experience. An example would be a fast-food restaurant.
Adhocracy (“Do things first.”)
Is innovation a major part of your company strategy? Are you running a company where having unique products and services is paramount, e.g. a software development company, or a consulting practice? Then an adhocracy (or creative) culture is essential. This is a place where you need to allow people to safely stick their necks out and take risks, where experimentation is encouraged and mistakes are not punished.
Market (“Do things fast.”)
Is your predominant goal to earn profits through market competition? This is a sales-driven, competitive culture that needs to focus on producing maximum value for the customer—where the customer needs to come first. Does your vision and mission stress this? Do your employees fully understand the challenges and needs of your customers? Do you have programs in place to reward employee behaviors that are aligned with putting the customer first?
Clan (“Do things together.”)
The clan culture stresses shared values, loyalty and high commitment. Teamwork, participation and consensus are of paramount importance. Every company benefits from promoting a collaborative spirit. The days of the lone genius are gone. As Shawn Callaghan states in Building a Collaborative Workplace, “Innovation demands collaboration. So does production. . . Today, we all need to be collaboration superstars.” This includes collaboration amongst teams, the community and networks.
Here are a few tips to help you as you grapple with culture issues:
All of the four culture styles are positive and there is no good or bad. In Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture Based On the Competing Framework, Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn explain that “each organization must determine for itself the degree of cultural strength required to be successful in its environment.” Some companies may require a more balanced culture rather than aiming for a dominant culture. If your goal is to drive innovation, for example, you may need a hybrid of all four cultures, as shown in Jeff DeGraff’s: The Competing Values Framework video.
The key to using culture to enhance your company’s performance lies in matching desired attributes to organizational goals.
Clarify what cultural change needs to take place.
If you determine that the culture needs to change, clarify for everyone involved what characteristics should dominate the new culture. What attributes need to be abandoned? Clarity is your ally.
Keep an open mind.
Regardless of what culture is the desired one, guard against being rigid. Consider that company culture, no matter how hard you try to change it, is rarely homogenous. Different subcultures manifest themselves and evolve over time. Edgar Schein notes that this is not necessarily dysfunctional, “rather it allows the company to perform effectively in different environments based on function, product, market, location etc.”
Encourage intelligent disobedience.
Even if your preferred culture is hierarchal, encourage your people to practice intelligent disobedience. Intelligent disobedience is about allowing people to use their judgment to decide when, for example, an established company rule actually hinders the organization, rather than helps it. The people closest to the customer are most often the ones who know what is best for the customer. If Delta Airlines had a culture that encouraged intelligent disobedience, for example, it would have avoided the unfortunate incident where returning troops were charged a $2,800 baggage fee. More on intelligent disobedience here.
Culture is everything. But changing cultures is not an easy undertaking. In Peter Drucker’s words, “company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.” Perhaps the smartest thing to do when working with culture is to ask yourself: What needs to be preserved? As experts recommend, don’t abandon core aspects of what makes your company unique, while some aspects need to be transformed. Tempering zeal with caution is a wise move.
The BBC documentary video “Capuchins: The Monkey Puzzle,” shows how a monkey reacts to unfairness: When a companion monkey receives a better reward, the monkey loses his composure and would rather go hungry than accept a less than equal reward.
This sense of fairness is hard-wired in humans as well. A recent brain study from the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm School of Economics shows that our brain has a built-in mechanism that triggers an automatic reaction if someone refuses to share equitably. In the study, subjects play a game whereby one player is asked to decide how a sum of money is to be shared between them. The other player can take the proposed share or decline. If the player declines, neither player receives anything. When a player proposes an inequitable 80/20 split, the other player declines, preferring to lose the 20% share and punish their partner in the process rather than accept less than a 50/50 split.
The study showed that the impulse to react aggressively and punish the player who suggested the unfair distribution of money was directly linked to an increase in activity in the amygdala, a set of neurons which plays a key role in processing emotions. A sense of fairness is so hard-wired in us that it trumps self-interest.
Fairness is often a question of perception, so while we may do our best to practice fairness, others may not always view us as fair. Of all the leadership qualities, this is perhaps one of the hardest to practice on a consistent basis. Here are a few tips to help you be fair in the workplace:
Take the Fairness Behavioral Checklist. In The Great Workplace: How to Build It, How to Keep It, and Why It Matters, authors Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin outline the three key relationships that are found in a great workplace, one of which is fairness. This is defined as “the degree to which employees feel that there is a level playing field.” The book provides a 19-point Fairness Behavioral Checklist to help you create an environment where equity, impartiality and justice exist. Entries include items such as: I ensure that people understand the factors influencing their pay and I let people know what’s needed to seek promotions in my department.
Unseat the power behind the throne. In workplaces, there is sometimes one individual who informally wields a great deal of power, which is independent of position or title. The person is known to have the “boss’s ear” which gives him or her an unfair advantage over everyone else. Often this person might be feared because of their perceived power to possibly harm or hinder someone’s career. If there is such a person in your entourage, consider the effect that this might have on the sense of safety in the team and reshuffle the deck to give everyone an even hand. It’s the right thing to do.
Avoid creating favorites. Are you seen to favor some people over others? This is often experienced as having one set of rules for one person and a different set of rules for another. Do you unwittingly reward sycophants? Marshall Goldsmith, North America’s premier coach, asks four insightful questions in this video which will help you determine if you are unwittingly encouraging this behavior and in the process, run the risk of being perceived as creating favorites. Distribute your attention, time and recognition across a wide group of people in your organization.
Involve all stakeholders in the hiring process. By involving others in hiring a new member to the team, we create not only transparency in an important process of office life, but we also signal that we value everyone’s input on the team. It’s a powerful way to create equality and engender good will, not to mention increase the odds that we end up hiring the right person.
Discourage politicking. While you may loathe office politics and shun them, consider a common situation that unwittingly pulls you into the game. It’s triangulation. This is when two individuals have a problem but rather than solve it themselves, they come to you, each one independently. You find yourself pulled into the drama and having to take sides. Establish a reputation for discouraging this practice and encouraging team members to communicate openly with each other to solve issues.
Shine the light on someone else. Benjamin Disraeli once said, “Next to knowing when to seize an opportunity, the most important thing in life is to know when to forego an advantage.” As leaders, we often have a lot of perks and advantages. Once in a while, choose a well-deserving subordinate and give them the choice spot; for example, send them to the coveted conference, or let them attend an important meeting on your behalf.
Give credit generously. Every person who does the work wants to have their stamp on it, just as every artist likes to sign his painting. For example, while it is not always feasible to recognize everyone who toils in the background to create a report for someone else, strive, as much as you can, to unearth the efforts of all those who contributed. Nothing cements a relationship more than giving someone, who is invisible, credit for their intellectual and emotional labor in a project. Set the example yourself and ask the same of your direct reports. This is the most elevating, and often the least practiced form of fairness.
Developing the sensitivity to truly understand the emotional power of inequity aversion is an important tool in our leadership toolkit. It makes us more attuned to people’s emotions in the work place. We commonly hear the expression: “Life isn’t fair; get used to it,” but this doesn’t mean we have to accept it. If you create condition where your constituencies can depend on the fairness of your organization, you will create a great workplace.
W. H. Auden once said: “Choice of attention—to pay attention to this and ignore that—is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer.” The poet’s words of long ago might as well have been written for us today. From the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, we make important decisions on what we will pay attention to. I am not talking about the attention we pay to our work and our clients—the things that are vital to our organization’s success and our economic well-being. I am talking, instead, about what Auden refers to as our inner life.
Our inner life expands or shrinks in direct proportion to what we focus on. It’s an existential choice; that is, we are responsible for how we spend our time. This is important because our inner life ultimately defines who we are as a person—independent of titles, job functions, or which seat we occupy on the corporate success bus. Jobs can come and go, businesses can start and end, but who we become in the process is what lasts a lifetime.
It’s true that in our highly charged, digital existence, there is, realistically for most of us, only a small amount of time left for discretionary attention. And in this life crunch, the thing that often gets pushed aside is the fitness of our inner life—our family, our personal relationships, our health, and our spirituality. Here are a few tips to inspire you to pay more attention to your inner life:
Live in more than one world. Consider living a multi-dimensional life beyond the four walls (virtual or brick) of your work life. Just before his death, Peter Drucker, one of the most influential business thinkers of our modern time, said that the satisfied, contented people he knew were people who “lived in more than one world. Those single-minded people … in the end are very unhappy people.” Drucker targeted all individuals, but in particular, knowledge workers (he coined the term), who are perhaps more at risk of living in a one-dimensional world.
In Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life, Bruce Rosenstein outlines Drucker’s philosophy and shows us how we can create what Drucker considered a total life, one that includes work, friends, family, professional colleagues and affiliation groups; in short, a life that is rich and fulfilling. The secret to achieving this is by living in more than one world, enjoying a diversity of interests, activities, acquaintances and pursuits.
The author recommends starting the journey of living more holistically by completing a “Total Life List,” contained in the book. This is a snapshot of where you are and where you need to go. The book provides a roadmap for creating a total life. You can also join one of the Drucker Societies around the world to expand your views and effect positive change for others. The site also provides a rich set of tools for effectiveness.
Adopt the motto that “charity begins at home.” Balance what you give to others, whether in volunteering, mentoring, or spending hours answering strangers’ email requests, with the actual time you spend with those closest to you. Do you need to make any adjustments to the time scale?
Lessen the emotional footprint you leave on relationships. We are all concerned about the carbon footprint we leave on our environment. Consider the other kind of footprint: the emotional one that we may unwittingly leave on our relationships when we show up stressed, harried, and distracted—consumed by our work and the business. If this describes you, resolve to make some changes. It’s a question of managing your moods so that they don’t spill over from the office to the living room.
Set up non-negotiable personal rules. Make dinner time a sacred space for enjoying food and paying attention to whoever is sharing a table with you. This means setting up a personal rule that you will not check your Blackberry or take any phone calls during that time. Rarely, if ever, is the issue so crucial that it cannot wait the thirty or forty-five minutes it takes to complete this ritual.
Root for your friends. While we don’t purposely set out to ignore the achievement of others, we are often so busy with our own, that we don’t stop for a moment to acknowledge others’ achievements. It takes very little time to congratulate someone on Linkedin when you notice their achievement update; it doesn’t take long to click “Like” on a friend’s Facebook entry or to honor them by re-tweeting an article of interest. More and more today, these are the gestures of grace that send an electronic hug to those in our social network.
Don’t keep score. Attention in any given day is in limited supply. It takes more effort to hold a grudge, for a real or imaginary slight—to remember who did what, or who didn’t do what, or for what reason—than it does to blow it away. Do your best to patch up what went wrong and if, despite your sincere effort, there is no improvement, press the delete button to purge all old stuff that is cluttering your life’s inbox. And make room for new people too.
Put your foot on the brake, at regular intervals, to take stock of your life and where you are heading. Consider if a shift in priorities is necessary and which activities need to be abandoned or scaled back. When you have achieved what you wanted to achieve and hit a plateau, consider what you can do to continue to enrich your life. Above all, as you look into the future, consider those who share your present life. Lee Iacocca said it poignantly: “No matter what you’ve done for yourself or for humanity, if you can’t look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?”
Long ago, Aristotle said: “The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” Today, there is a great deal of research on the importance of managing our energy for optimal performance in every area of our lives. We know that emotions play a pivotal role in harnessing or depleting mind energy. One emotional response that is not talked about often enough, in this context, is forgiveness. It is one of the least understood qualities and one of the most difficult to practice. And yet, forgiveness is one of the quickest paths to salvaging a great deal of wasted personal energy.
To forgive someone is to waive our right to resentment, anger or other negative reaction to something they have done that justifies our response. This is not about condoning or excusing their actions, but about intentionally deciding to let go of a sense of offense at snubs, ego scuffs, disappointments and other garden variety occurrences that pull our strings. Making forgiveness a part of our operating system is a key aspect of emotional intelligence: it is taking ownership of our own emotional reactions.
Forgiveness is not just a “nice to have” quality. There is now scientific evidence that a lack of forgiveness leads to increased stress and anxiety, and chronic conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. One of the pioneers in the field of forgiveness research is Dr. Fred Luskin, Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects and a Senior Consultant in Health Promotion at Stanford. In this provocative and inspiring video, Dr. Luskin makes the most compelling case for practicing forgiveness. It is well worth watching, as is reading his book, Forgive for Good: A PROVEN Prescription for Health and Happiness.
Some fortunate individuals have a natural disposition for forgiveness, just as some are naturally gifted with a sense of humor. For the rest of us, what can we do to make forgiveness a part of our repertoire of behaviors? Here are some practical tips:
Focus on a higher purpose in your life. Long ago, I read a quotation which said: “The size of a man can be measured by the size of the thing that makes him angry.” Resolve to let go of interpersonal abrasions, distress at unwarranted criticism, grudges and other petty vexations of the spirit that can be a regular occurrence in human interactions. Clearing this emotional mind clutter frees your mental energy to focus on your higher purpose, the worthwhile goals that contribute to your success. What you focus on grows.
Consider taking a Forgiveness Measurement Test. Evidence shows that those who are inclined not to forgive are more susceptible to anger, anxiety and other negative emotions. Self-awareness, of course, precedes self-management. To increase your self-awareness in this area, consider taking The Heartland Forgiveness Test which is a free, 18-item online questionnaire that measures our disposition to be forgiving. Another free survey is the VIA Survey on Character Strengths which identifies 24 character strengths that define what’s best about people. Forgiveness is one of those strengths.
Remind yourself frequently of the bottom-line benefits of forgiveness. Not only does forgiveness lead to greater emotional and physical well-being, but experiments have also shown that forgiveness results in greater productivity and an increase in sales. For example, an experiment with financial advisers after the stock market crash of 2000, involved training participants in emotional competence skills and forgiveness, and then tracking the impact of the training on sales and quality of life. Productivity increased by 25%, with a corresponding 10% increase in sales. In addition, the stress levels and quality of life of participants showed significant positive change.
Stop talking about your grievances for a while. If you often feel a need to talk about people and issues that have irked you, consider that every time you repeat the story to others, you reinforce the residual grudges and take a step back in your ability to overcome resentment. Put a limit on the number of people you share these stories with. Better still, declare a personal moratorium on ruminating and complaining about the same issues and see what happens.
Help establish a culture of forgiveness. If you are a leader, there are many initiatives you can take to set the right tone when it comes to forgiveness. Encourage the practice of kindness and grace by modeling forgiveness yourself and create a shame-free environment that makes it safe for people to admit to mistakes without the threat of repercussions. Discourage triangulation amongst your team. Triangulation refers to a dysfunction within a team, where team member A complains about team member B to the team leader rather than to team member B directly, so that the team leader is forced to be the go between for the two. Triangulation is a form of corporate infantilism. More often than not, this funneling of information through a third party exacerbates the conflict and does not encourage team members to resolve their issues in a mature manner.
Take exit interviews with a grain of salt. As a leader, you owe it to your people to practice due diligence in all policies and practices that can have an impact on their well-being at work. One such area is the exit interview. While it is a useful tool for companies to gain important information, they can also be used as unfair instruments of revenge by disgruntled or malcontent people. Don’t discount them but don’t accept them blindly either. Use your good judgment and intuition about the people involved and the situations so that you can use the feedback fairly.
Every day, resolve to practice the best form of revenge. There is a great deal of truth in the old adage that the best revenge is living well. I love this quote from Frank Sinatra: “The best revenge is massive success.” If you are struggling with issues of resentment and past hurts that are derailing you, keep this thought at the forefront of your mind every time you experience negative emotions. Ask yourself, how is my resentful attitude holding me back from living my best life?
Forgiveness helps us function on a higher level on the humanity scale. It is a front row ticket to peace of mind and, once mastered, gives us a definite personal advantage. Multitudes of people today are concerned about creating a better world. Perhaps one of the ways to change the world is to make forgiveness a household word, to find opportunities every day to practice it in your life. Forgiveness is a wise energy choice.
“If there is any one secret of success,” said Henry Ford, “it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.” This is empathy. Not an easy undertaking, even though scientists have now proven that we are indeed wired for empathy. In this fascinating video by Nova Science, we see how mirror neurons, also dubbed Gandhi’s neurons, act as a “neurological Wi-Fi” to help us connect with other people’s feelings.
Empathy is our ability to recognize and identify with the concerns other people have. In short, it is our capacity to care for others besides ourselves. Not only does the ability to empathize make us more successful in our professional and personal lives, but it is also the decent thing to do. It’s the path of the mensch.
With our overloaded psyche and our fast-paced lives, our empathy skills can become corroded. How do we practice empathy? Here are a few pointers:
1. Don’t Take for Granted the Most Important People in Your Life. Is your unwavering focus on the finish line causing you to unintentionally neglect your family’s emotional needs? If so, you might derive inspiration from the poignant words of Brian G. Dyson, a former CEO of Coca-Cola: “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them-work, family, health, friends, and spirit-and you are keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls-family, health, friends, and spirit-are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
2. Understand this Universal Human Fear. A fundamental fear experienced by most is the hidden fear of not measuring up. Recognize this and do your part to genuinely make those in your circle of influence feel that they are enough. It’s a powerful act of interpersonal philanthropy.
3. Cultivate an Executive Presence. Much has been written about what executive presence is but one thing is certain: those who possess it have “social generosity.” We invariably walk away from them feeling energized and better about ourselves. This is because they have empathy, the quality that makes them sense our need to feel important. They see us not as we are, but as who we could become. Simply put, they care about how we feel. What a wonderful gift it is, to be able to bestow this on those we encounter. One could argue that it is indeed impossible to have executive presence without empathy because a major requirement for executive presence is the ability to connect with others.
4. Stop Negative Listening Habits.Adele Lynn isolated six negative listening habits, including the Rebuttal Maker (listening long enough to formulate his rebuttal), the Advice Giver (jumping too quickly to give unsolicited advice), the Interrupter (more anxious to speak his words than to listen), the Logical Listener (rarely asking about the underlying feelings or emotions attached to a message), the Happy Hooker (using the speaker’s words only as a way to get to his own message: “That’s nothing, let me tell you what happened to me”), and perhaps the worst of all, the Faker (pretending to listen). Do you inadvertently fall into any of these poor listening habits? Self-awareness precedes self-management. Making someone feel that they are truly listened to is the most foundational aspect of empathy.
5. Beware of the Pygmalion Effect. How you persistently view someone that you closely interact with can have an effect on how they perform—a self-fulfilling prophecy. People are very good at sensing how we view them. We translate this through a multitude of micro gestures: frequently checking email while they talk to us, picking up the phone when they enter our office, or looking away when they speak at meetings. All of these seemingly insignificant gestures are posters with a clear message: you are not important. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and try to experience what that must feel like. Developing empathy involves putting our foot on the brake for a moment to ponder such issues. Our First Nations people have a beautiful saying for empathy—it is: “Walk a mile in my moccasins.”
Empathy helps us forge positive connections with others. It’s a state of mind and a way of being that act as a catalyst to help us create positive communities for the greater good.
Here are my thoughts on how to be a Mensch in 2010. I hope they inspire you in your life’s journey.
I am blessed that Guy Kawasaki posted my article in his American Express Open Forum site and that so many of Guy’s followers tweeted the article to their network. We need to spread the concept of being a mensch far and wide for a kinder and better world.
1. Give people gifts whose value is beyond price. This means giving someone a second chance, giving someone the benefit of the doubt and giving others a reason to want to work for you besides earning a living. It entails giving others latitude, permission to make mistakes and all the information that they need to do the job. It means giving them the authority that goes with that responsibility and giving them due credit for their ideas.
2. Resolve to become known as a talent hunter. The biggest hunger in anyone’s eyes is the hunger for appreciation. Genuinely acknowledging others is high octane fuel for the soul.
3. Share ideas and information that can enrich others. To that end, derive inspiration from Charles Leadbeater’s words: “In the past, you were what you owned. Now you are what you share.”
4. Spend more time in that wonderful space of the ‘beginner’s mind’. This means replacing “Been there, done that”, with: “Tell me more.” It translates into moving away from pushing into allowing, from insecure to secure, from seeking approval to seeking enlightenment. It’s forgetting about being perfect and enjoying being in the moment.
6. Minimize the space you take up. When you enter a crowded coffee shop with a partner, don’t hog two tables to spread your papers around.It’s a form of theft.
7. Become a relationship anthropologist. Know the difference between a conversation and a discussion. A discussion involves issues or right vs. wrong; it is an exchange of facts, opinions and data. A conversation is an exploration of another person for the sole purpose of learning about them.
8. Be happy for others. The exact opposite of the word envy is farginen. It’s what happens when you celebrate others’ accomplishments as you would celebrate your own. Take a moment to absorb the spiritual beauty of this concept by viewing this video clip that explains Generosity of Spirit.
9. View all promises you made in 2009 as an unpaid debt. Promises imply trust, but trust is fragile. It’s like a Christmas tree ornament—one slip can shatter it. And we all know that once it’s shattered, it’s very difficult to restore.
10. Get rid of one of the biggest clutters in our lives: Grudges for real or imaginary slights. Raise the bar on your own behavior by forgiving and moving on.
11. Help others caress the rainbow. This means show them how to have hope. There is a tremendous positive psychological capital in us if we intentionally resolve to tap into it to help others.
12. Be conscious of how others feel about themselves when they are in your presence. We cannot control everyone liking us, but we can control how others feel when they interact with us. After spending time with you, do others feel better about themselves?
I was interviewed recently by Guy Kawasaki on “How To Be A Mensch in Business” — Below are a few of Guy’s questions. The complete interview is here.
Kawasaki:What qualities define a mensch?
Martinuzzi:A mensch is an individual who is decent and honorable in all of his undertakings—he or she is the same person privately and publicly. This is a person of high integrity, someone that you would feel totally comfortable doing business with. A mensch’s word is as good as his signature. One of the hallmarks of a mensch is empathy and compassion, a genuine caring for his fellow man. A mensch will always look for an opportunity to do good in life, to be of help to the community. When you are in the presence of a mensch, you feel good about you—you sense a total absence of artifice, you know that you are in the presence of a genuine human being, one who will not deceive you, undermine you or try to diminish you in any way.
Kawasaki:Many business people are very successful and rich and the antithesis of mensches, so why should we aspire to be mensches?
Martinuzzi:First, let’s define what the antithesis of a mensch is. This would be someone who lacks empathy, compassion and integrity—an individual who is self-serving, focused only on his own needs to succeed and acquire wealth. One would argue that those who accomplish their goals despite this way of doing business, might find success, but not significance. I love Peter Drucker’s exhortation to make your life your end-game, to ask yourself frequently: “What do you want to be remembered for?” Significance is making a positive difference in the world. Success without significance is hollow. Rabbi Hillel’s beautiful words say it best: “…if I am only for myself, then what am I?”
Kawasaki:Suppose that a person wants to become a mensch, what are the steps to take?
Martinuzzi:Here are eleven quick tips:
1. Consistently act with honesty. Watch the small integrity slips.
2. When someone has wronged you, continue to treat them with civility.
3. Are you in the habit of making hasty promises that you know, from experience, you are unable to keep? Think back on what promises you made, to whom, and see if you can fulfill some of these.
4. Help someone who can be of absolutely no use to you.
5. The next time something goes wrong on a project, suspend blame and ask: “What can we learn?”
6. Hire people who are as smart or smarter than you are—whose talents surpass you—and give them opportunities for growth. Not only is it the smart thing to do but it is also a sign of high personal humility.
7. Improve the way you communicate with people: don’t interrupt people; don’t dismiss their concerns offhand; don’t rush to give advice; don’t change the subject. Allow people their moment.
8. Resolve to do no harm in anything you undertake. If you are certain that you don’t have the competence to take on something that is offered, consider that you might be doing harm to someone by accepting it anyway.
9. Become aware of your stance at business meetings. Are you known as the devil’s advocate—the one who is quick to shoot down others’ ideas? Jumping in too quickly to negate an idea can derail the creative process for others. Often, valuable ideas are the result of the initial “crazy” thought.
10. Resolve to become a philanthropist of know-how. What knowledge, expertise or best practices can you share with colleagues, customers and other stakeholders as a way to enrich them?
11. At the end of each day, when you clear your desk before you head home, take a few minutes to mentally go over your day. Think about significant conversations you had, meetings you attended, emails you sent, and other actions you undertook. Are you proud? Could you have done better? Getting into this habit of introspection will pay dividends in the long run.
Since the publication of my book: The Leader as a Mensch, I am often asked what a mensch is. Here is a brief explanation: Mensch is a German word meaning human being or person, It has no gender. In Yiddish, it is a popular word with deep connotations. It has been variously translated as a man (or woman) of integrity and honor, an upstanding individual, a decent person with admirable characteristics. It describes an individual who is higher on the evolutionary scale, a person in whose presence we feel safe; a person who makes us feel good about ourselves. It is someone we want to work for, someone we want as our spouse or business partner – it is someone that we would welcome as a friend.
Among the admirable characteristics of a Mensch are humility, authenticity, integrity, fairness, accountability, dependability, conscientiousness, empathy, composure, optimism, generosity and appreciation to name a few. There are no organizational assessments for menschhood. You know when you are in the presence of a Mensch. They have a calm presence and they exude credibility. They earn respect without demanding it. They will often lead from the side, just by the sheer force of their example, whether in the boardroom, classroom or living room. These are individuals with high emotional intelligence. To be called a Mensch, is the greatest compliment one can give you.
Guy Kawasaki, a mensch himself, explains the concept of the mensch more eloquently in his popular blog: How to be a Mensch. Have a look. It’s well worth reading as is everything Kawasaki writes.