March 5, 2020The Ingredients of Decency Decency has two components, empathy and compassion. What they have in common is that each depends on actions

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March 5, 2020

The Ingredients of Decency

Decency has two components, empathy and compassion. What they have in common is that each depends on actions and decisions that affect others more positively than they may affect us. The greatest act of empathy is forgiveness. Compassion is a continuous and helpful frame of reference for your entire life. Apology is such a powerful act, that Jim often refers to it as the atomic energy of empathy. These two ways of life combine to be decency, an ongoing stream of large and small but powerfully meaningful gestures towards others.

What Decency Looks Like

(Based on pages 8 – 10, the Introduction, of The Decency Code: The Leader’s Path to Integrity and Trust)

A business decency is a thoughtful, meaningful gesture offered that in ways small and large can change a corporate culture for the better. Decencies are how we more humanely treat one another. John Cowan, author of Small Decencies, reminds us that we can be true to our values both at home and at work. The more humanely we treat one another, the better we will be as people and the better we will be in doing our life’s work.

We are colleagues who want to make a positive difference in another person’s day. Out of such actions, multiplied dozens of times over a period, corporate cultures are enriched and ethical behavior reinforced. Widely accepted and adopted, decencies become a force multiplier for employee engagement.

The late Herb Kelleher understood this when he created Southwest Airlines’ “culture committee” to honor people in unglamorous jobs: “top wrench award” or “top cleaner award.” Doug Conant, Campbell’s ex-CEO, regularly handwrote thank-you notes to deserving employees all over the world. Herbert Baum, ex-CEO of Dial Corporation, regularly held informal chats—serving hot dogs—as he hosted “Hot Dogs with Herb.”

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Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, was inspired in 2017 to initiate a national conversation about the moral responsibilities of businesses. Jim Lukaszewski has taken Tim Cook’s commencement address at MIT on June 9, 2017 and transformed it into Lukaszewski’s Civility and Decency Manifesto. Highlights of Jim’s manifesto include:

Business has a moral obligation greater than the accumulation of wealth and sole allegiance to Wall Street.
Businesses should be places where individuals can find meaning, purpose, and can serve humanity . . . something greater than themselves.
Businesses, like technology, can do great things. But like technology, businesses don’t necessarily want to do great things, they just do things. Business purpose comes from those who lead.
Keeping people at the center of business and in life can have enormous impact.
Whatever you do in life it must be infused with the humanity, values, and decency that each of us is born with.
Use technology to reinforce and amplify the rules of decency and avoid pettiness and negativity.
Measure your impact on humanity by the lives you touch, rather than popularity.
Stay on your personal course, focused on what really matters.
Bring your values, compassion, empathy, and concern for consequences into your daily life and your work. Avoid those who advise otherwise.
When you know your course is right, have the courage to take a stand.
When you see a problem or an injustice, recognize that you are the only one to fix it.
Use your mind and hands and heart to build something bigger than yourself.
Strive to create the best, give the best, do the best for everyone.

We applaud Tim Cook’s real vision. His vision lays a useful groundwork for this book. His passion and his quest for a fraud-free business culture reinforces the authors’ experienced and deeply held conviction that the terms “integrity,” “ethics,” and “values” are too theoretical and intangible to be clear, vivid, and actionable for corporate cultures and their leaders in turbulent times. The power of institutionalized, tangible, visible, measurable, and pervasive decencies creates a deterrent to misbehavior, misdeeds, and contaminants to employee engagement. Cultural decency helps inoculate workplaces from the “doing whatever it takes” crowd, regardless of consequences.

We believe that decency is a core ingredient in achieving employee engagement, a topic we’ll discuss in detail over the coming weeks.

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Jim Lukaszewski