Moral Authority

via What You Do is Who You Are:

As a leader, you can float along in a morally ambiguous frame of mind until you face a clarifying choice. Then you either evolve or you wall yourself up in moral corruption.

Senghor used his incident as a catalyst:

I recognized my own hypocrisy when I chose to resolve conflicts by the rules of the yard as opposed to my own evolving principles. And I began to understand the different levels of how you shift an organization to be in line with your own moral code.

It takes time, so I made it mandatory that we broke bread together, special meals of ramen noodles, summer sausage, cheese, or fresh ground beef or chicken. At our lunches, we’d discuss the books that I’d sent out. The bonding and that sense of everybody feeling taken care of created a whole shift.

Who is Shaka Senghor? Is he a ruthless criminal and prison gang leader, or a best-selling author, leader in prison reform, and contributor to a better society? Clearly he’s capable of being both. That’s the power of culture. If you want to change who you are, you have to change the culture you’re in. Fortunately for the world he did.

What he did is who he is.

I took this lesson and I applied it immediately in the context of my own team. As we start building and as we bring back new insights from the future, we simultaneously need to change the way that we work, the very culture in which we do work.

The way that you do this is by being very explicit, not allowing any abstract cultural element stay in that comfortable but ultimately useless layer of abstraction. Also stolen directly from Ben:

Many potential cultural elements are too abstract to be effective. If you define “integrity” as a virtue, will that clarify exactly how people should behave? If there’s a conflict, does integrity mean meeting your product schedule as promised or delivering the quality that your customers expect?

Some ways of thinking about a virtue’s effectiveness:

  • Is your virtue actionable? According to bushido, a culture is not a set of beliefs, but a set of actions. What actions do your cultural virtues translate to? Can you turn empathy, for instance into an action? If so, it may work as a virtue. If not, best to design your culture with a different virtue.
  • Does your virtue distinguish your culture? Not every virtue will be unique to your company, but if every other business is your field does the same thing, there is probably no need to emphasize it. If you’re a Silicon Valley company, there is no need to make casual dress a virtue, because that’s the default behavior. But if you’re a technology company and you want everyone to wear a suit and tie, that will define your culture.
  • If you are tested on this virtue, will you pass the test?

The timeliness of this book is impossible to overstate — this is literally a guide (but not an instruction manual) to some very important things that I’m trying to do with my company.

I love this at the end of this particular chapter:

Your employees will test you on your cultural virtues, either accidentally or on purpose, so before you put one into your company, ask yourself, “Am I willing to pass the test on this?”

The answer should be a crystal-clear “Yes“… and then you go do it.

The reason I’m getting up at 4:00am every morning until we launch our new experiment is not because I’m trying to build a new product — it’s because how I behave reveals my true feelings about what I believe to be true — what this is about is my moral authority to lead this team.

My behavior either confirms our stated operating virtues or it shows me to be a liar. If I say that building and launching a functional, customer-centric product, fast, is our #1 priority of the entire organization then all of my behavior should continually confirm that as being authentically true.

I think that everything lives or dies on these very simple yet profound judgment calls. What we do as a company is who we are as a company, truly. And, we have the power to change it at any time.