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Posted by on Jan 21, 2014 in BOLD, Culture, Featured, Leadership, Strategy | 2 comments

BOLD: Do Your Behaviors Belie Your Beliefs?

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My first boss in the ‘real’ world was a yeller.  I’d never really been yelled at in my life.  So, picture this: I’m 20 years old, right out of college, ready to take on the world at Bell Labs, and in my boss’s office for one of our team meetings.  I was the youngest by almost 10 years sitting next to Ph.D.s who already had patents and stellar reputations, and my boss starts yelling at us about something, I don’t even remember what.  Everyone sat there looking down at their lab notebooks and then he started yelling at me.  At first I wondered if I was in a Hitchcock movie or the Twilight Zone.  Perhaps because I was naïve, a bit arrogant, and incredibly humbled, I stood up, looked at him and kindly told him that I didn’t need to be yelled at and I’d be in my office when he was ready to discuss this issue.  With that, I got up and walked out to the astonished looks of my team members.  An hour or so later, my boss came into my office, apologized, we discussed the issue, he never yelled at me again and became one of the best mentors I ever had.

Why? At one level, it’s a matter of faith.  At another level, it’s a risk-reward analysis.

By firmly holding to my belief in how people should be treated, including myself, and acting upon it, behavior was changed, both mine and my boss’s, for the better.  Now, this could have turned out very badly – as in my looking for a new job; fortunately, it didn’t. There were other times in my career when my beliefs were challenged to behave the way management wanted.  Not to sound cavalier, but it really wasn’t that hard to decide which way to go.  The situations were pretty clear-cut – they called upon my roles as employee, manager and shareholder. In these roles, I was a steward of my people, the outcome my service provided to customers, my company’s brand and its money.  Rarely did I find myself in circumstances where they were in opposition to each other. Add to the mix my beliefs, and the decisions were simple, though not always safe.

Why? At one level, it’s a matter of faith.  At another level, it’s a risk-reward analysis.  In all the situations I faced, the risk of compromising belief far outweighed the reward of any compromised behavior.  At the end of the day, if I didn’t have my integrity, what did I have? At the end of the day, what was the worst thing the company could do to me? Fire me! Given my family history, and blessedly my education, skills and network, being fired was not the end of the world (clearly a luxury in today’s world).

The risk of compromising belief far outweighed the reward of any compromised behavior.  At the end of the day, if I didn’t have my integrity, what did I have?

The adage “Actions speak louder than words” has lasted more than 400 years because it’s true. What we believe should directly impact how we behave, and how we behave should clearly demonstrate and buttress what we believe.  Now we are all human, so there are times when we are out of sync, but if it’s more often than not we need to do some serious self-reflection.  Leaders must be consistent.  Some of the greatest upheaval I’ve seen, culturally, financially and otherwise, has been due to inconsistent leadership – when behavior belies belief.  This doesn’t mean we rigidly hold steadfast to a mistaken cause; adaption is necessary for survival and success.  But it does mean we continually question ourselves and ask those around us if we are living the values we espouse in our daily behavior.  And we hold ourselves, and those we steward to the same measure.

Some of the greatest upheaval I’ve seen, culturally, financially and otherwise, has been due to inconsistent leadership – when behavior belies belief.

Life is filled with ‘fine lines’ and ‘slippery slopes’; with little white lies that eventually pile up into bold faced lies.  It’s incredibly easy to keep cutting slices off the salami of integrity until all you’re left with is the string (my dad’s quote).  So, make sure your behavior doesn’t belie your beliefs.  Truly understand what is at risk, and make sure it’s not your integrity, which is a beacon to your people and your family.

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Image credit: blinkblink1 / 123RF Stock Photo

Deborah Mills-Scofield

Deborah Mills-Scofield is a partner at Glengary LLC, an early stage venture capital firm in Cleveland, OH, and an innovation and strategy consultant. Her patent from AT&T Bell Labs was one of the highest-revenue generating patents ever for AT&T & Lucent.

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  • Scott Mabry

    Powerful encouraging post. I haven’t always “stayed the course” as well as I would have liked but with time and experience I have reached the same conclusion. There really is no better way. The long term personal price of compromise is far greater than the temporary reward.

    • http://www.mills-scofield.com/ Deb Mills-Scofield

      Scott – thank you! it’s not always easy and sometimes it happens without us being totally aware — stay the course!!!