What leaders know is that justice and fairness exist only when we and our colleagues work very hard to make it happen.
A Natural Tendency
Studies done at the Yale Mind & Research Lab suggest that most people tend to ignore this because of a rationalizing bias. Whether an atheist or a religious person, a majority of people think life events (like births, deaths, illnesses, love matches) were purposely designed. Even young children show this bias, that things happen to “teach a lesson” or “send a sign.” Yale researchers indicate this is about our powerful drive to reason, make sense and align our external environment with our own goals, intentions or ambitions. Obviously, these attitudes can bring comfort and reassurance. And, those feelings are an important reinforcement for the bias.
But then, how do we explain the very ugly consequences of structural racism, sexism, and other abuses of power? Our world is full of injustice, brutal and unfair behavior that deeply injures individuals, communities and organizations. Intentional actions cause fear, oppression, disappointments, and serious wounds.
A sage family friend always softly responded to the common inquiry, “How are you?” with “Better than I deserve.” He embraced gratitude as a primary perspective because he had lived a rough and tumble life but was able to acknowledge chance. Many people don’t get what they deserve.
None of us live in an absolute meritocracy. Yale professor Paul Bloom suggests life is not a fundamentally fair place with goodness rewarded and badness punished. Logic recognizes that we cannot blame those who suffer from disease, victims of crimes and maintain a bias for the status quo. This view requires us to affirm poverty, inequality and oppression are all part of some great big intentional plan. It isn’t.
Michelle Munson, CEO of Aspera, says: “Respecting an opportunity means embracing it and dedicating yourself to making the most of it. I am infuriated by people who waste the opportunity.” Clearly she understands opportunity cost, that is, the implications of missing the obligation to create value and progress. Not surprising, Munson hires staff for two fundamentals: a high degree of competence and character. She defines character as desire, drive, responsibility, honesty and genuineness. Munson exhorts: “Nothing, nothing, nothing replaces being competent in what you’re doing…”
So, what’s the leadership message and mental model? I think it’s opportunity. It is the choice we each have to turn away from self interest and work diligently to create a fair and just society, community or organization. Leaders courageously tackle the status quo. They take responsibility for change and progress. Bloom’s research encourages us to resist the natural urge to cite our good fortune as fate. Prosperity, equality, freedom and hope occur because we purposely construct those conditions
What will you do and how will you guide others in opportunities today?
-Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com