“No power on this earth can destroy 
the thirst for human dignity”

–  Nelson Mandela

Have you ever heard the saying, “Half of knowing what something is, is knowing what it is not!”  Well if you wanted to learn what does not represent dignity all you had to do was listen to our leaders in Washington D. C. this week.  Our President continues to utilize nicknames for those with whom he has issues; Shifty Schiff -Congressman Adam Schiff; Pocahontas – Senator Elizabeth Warren; Sleepy Joe – Former VP Joe Biden; and Crazy Nancy – House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi.  Not to be outdone Trump’s critics have described him as; “the definition of corruption” (Joe Biden), “in need of an intervention” (Nancy Pelosi) and “ a white supremacist in the White House (Congressman Beta O’Rourke).  It would seem that “Dignified Leadership” is taking a recess in Washington, and by the look of things, will not be returning anytime soon. 

When we think about leadership there are a number of traits that quickly come to mind; positive, creative, visionary,  humble, dynamic, and confident are but a few.  However one characteristic rarely used is “dignified”.  A friend recently gave me a copy of a book that is being utilized within her organization to facilitate the creation of a positive work culture.  Leading with Dignity, authored by Dr. Donna Hicks examines the undervalued, but essential role that leadership dignity plays in creating a culture that brings out the best in people both within and outside the workplace.  Her work as an associate at Harvard’s Wetherhead Center for International Affairs, provided her with over two decades of experience in facilitating dialogues for parties finding themselves in intractable international conflict.  These experiences enabled her to identify a core element common to conflict at the international level and in the business world – the manner in which people are treated.  Hicks discovered that when people experience violations to their dignity in the workplace, they feel the same instinctive reactions as do those involved in international disputes – a desire for revenge against those who have violated them.  She also discovered that the extent to which leaders pay attention to, recognize, and understand dignity concerns makes a significant difference in the possibility of resolution.

Hicks begins by noting that dignity and respect are not one in the same.  Dignity is an attribute we are born with – it is our inherent value and worth.  We are born worthy!  Respect is different.  While we are born with dignity and it is something we all deserve, respect is earned.  We respect people because their actions bring about our admiration or serve to inspire.  Dignity, on the other hand, is something we all deserve no matter what we do.  It becomes the starting point for the way we treat each other. 

Hicks maintains that most of us have a significantly underdeveloped understanding of dignity, “Most people do not have a working knowledge of dignity.  I have found that most people are unaware of their own inherent value and worth, and are usually at a loss for how to recognize it in others.”  She suggests the remedy is to be found in raising our “dignity consciousness” by making three connections; being connected to your own dignity, the dignity of others, and the dignity of something beyond ourselves.

Being connected to our own dignity is critical, if one cannot recognize their own value and worth, how can they recognize and support it in others.  According to Hicks this connections occurs in three stages; Dependent (how others treat you), Independent (when the locus of control is internalized) and Interdependent ( an awareness that our interactions impact our sense of dignity).  It is at this final stage that we come to realize that it is through our interactions with others that we demonstrate our understanding of the important role dignity plays in conflict resolution and creating a culture that brings out the best in people.  To this end, Hicks provides ten elements that serve to validate dignity:

  1. Acceptance of Identity:  Approach others as being neither inferior or superior to you.  Accept them for who they are.
  2. Recognition:  Validate others for their hard work, talents, thoughtfulness, etc..  Be generous with praise and giving credit for their contributions.
  3. Acknowledgement:  Give people your full attention when interacting with them by listening, validating and responding.
  4. Inclusion:  Make others feel that they belong.
  5. Safety:  Put people at ease both physically and psychologically.
  6. Fairness:  Treat people justly and equally.
  7. Independence:  Empower people to act on their own behalf so that they feel in control of their own lives and feel a sense of hope and possibility.
  8. Understanding:  Believe that what others think matters; actively listen to their perspectives and encourage them to express their points of view.
  9. Benefit of the Doubt: Treat people as being trustworthy; start with the belief that others have good motives and act with integrity.
  10. Accountability:  Take responsibility for your actions; apologize if you have violated another’s dignity.  Commit to change if you have engaged in hurtful behavior.

It’s not rocket science; in fact it seems relatively simple.  So why do we have so much trouble treating others the way we want to be treated?  Here’s a suggestion, let’s not look to Washington for the answer to this one. I think we can do better by looking to each other!

Embrace Dignity
Embrace the Challenge