Above the law

The very first motion I filed in a US court was an order to show cause, seeking a judgment of contempt of court against an executrix who was not complying with a court order in favor of my client. The executrix faced imprisonment as a result. You simply can’t ignore a court order.

So it has been interesting to observe how Donald Trump has been defying court orders with little consequences. The same person who expected everyone to comply with his executive orders is now disregarding judicial orders. And if the judicial branch is hesitating to find him in contempt now, imagine their restraint if he gets elected again.

In the workplace, we see similar behaviors from senior executives who believe that the Code of Conduct or certain corporate policies don’t apply to them. They expect loyalty from everyone else but feel bound by no person or rule. These leaders create a toxic culture at the top, which quickly seeps into the lower ranks. Within a few years, most of these organizations are embroiled in scandals, and many implode.

Corporations, courts, and countries should never tolerate someone who believes they are above the law.

Fair wages and generous tips

A waiter paid $2.13 an hour is as vulnerable as a salesperson who lives almost exclusively from commissions. Neither can earn a living without the tips or the commissions. In good times, that might not be a problem. In a downturn, that financial pressure will often lead them to engage in wrongdoing.

A recent study of “tipped service workers” show that many do not enforce COVID-19 safety measures at their bar or restaurant for fear of losing their tips (the study also shows in increase in harassment of such workers). In an economy where tip workers have lost half their income because fewer people go out to eat, workers cannot afford to lose their tips. Even if this means putting themselves and others at risk.

So when a patron gets up from their table to go to the bathroom and doesn’t wear their mask, the waiter reluctantly looks the other way. Or, worse, when a patron asks his server to take off her mask so he can decide how much to tip her (gasp!), she puts her health, and other people’s, at risk. According to the CDC, adults who had contracted COVID-19 were twice as likely as virus-free adults to have recently dined at a restaurant (source).

A big part of the solution is to pay employees a fair wage, so they don’t feel pressured to break the rules. A salesperson who can pay the rent is less likely to forge the signature of a customer on a fake contract to make his monthly commission. A waiter who can keep the heat on this winter is more likely to keep her mask on too.

And for goodness’ sake, let’s tip generously.

Don’t lose your patience

I wrote 140 posts so far this year.

Curious about what single post had the most views in this year of pandemic and social injustice, I was surprised when my stats showed a 2017 entry, which was viewed twice as often as my most popular post from 2020.

In this post on stoic patience, I quote Marcus Aurelius’ advice that we should live life truthfully and rightly, and be patient with those who don’t.

2020 has indeed been a year when many have suffered, and in some cases died, because of the lies and wrongdoings of a few. In the face of injustice, many lose patience. But losing patience comes at a cost. Suffering and injustice should strengthen our resolve, not diminish our patience. It should propel us into just action, not into other forms of injustice.

Marcus would remind himself every morning that he would meet, in the course of his day, people that are rude and selfish and lying. He knew that a world without jerks is impossible. And so he simply accepted this reality and prepared himself to respond with kindness.

And so must we.

Let’s end 2020, and start 2021, with more truth and kindness and patience.

Checkmate in three

Last night I finished watching the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit.

The main character is a fictional female teenager from the ’60s. She’s a chess prodigy and climbs her way up the male-dominated chess world, eventually playing against chess grand masters. She goes on to beat several of them. Some gracefully shake her hand in admiration while others storm out of the room in embarrassment.

As the last episode concluded, I used my TV’s remote to switch from the Netflix app to ABC News, wanting an election result update. What I saw was a player realizing the inevitability of his loss, a player with no intention of gracefully resigning. Doing so would require civility and respect for the electorate, virtues he does not possess.

We’ll have to play this game to the end.

Time to move on

Too many school bullies wait for their parents to move to a new school district before they become the nice boys and girls they have long wanted to be.

Some jerks in our organizations are waiting for the same “opportunity”.

Give it to them.

That donut sure looks yummy

We all know someone who carries an unhealthy amount of excess weight. Despite all the warnings from the media, doctors and loved ones, they don’t change their habits. And then, inevitably, a health crisis hits and they are forced to change.

A similar thing happens in an organization with a poor culture. Despite all the warnings from the media, ethics officers and employees, they don’t change how they do things. And then, inevitably, a compliance crisis hits and they are forced to change.

Yes, that jelly donut looks yummy. Yes, that jerk of a CEO drives profit.

Is it our life’s mission to eat donuts or promote jerks?

Surely we can do better.

The jerks we protect

Is there someone you work with that is so toxic that if they were to be fired you would feel compelled to thank leadership for getting rid of them?

If so, why wait to speak up? If you truly feel that leadership would welcome your thanks after the fact, rest assured that they would prefer that you speak up now before it gets worse.

(And it’s fine to do it anonymously)

Two key steps to realign your culture

The company Workday is ranked #7 on Forbes’ Best Companies to Work For this year.

When the company was founded in 2005, its leaders decided to create an employee-centric organization, banking on the intuitive notion that happy employees do what’s best for the customers.

As the company grew, its leadership noticed that not all managers and employees were living by the stated values. Culture was heading in the wrong direction. In response, they did two things:

  • Created new processes to realign the culture (remember: culture is an outcome of your processes);
  • Separated top performers who didn’t play nicely with the other boys and girls.

Most leaders still do not understand the process-driven nature of culture. And most leaders don’t have the guts to terminate top-performing jerks, especially when business is bad.

But if you can do these two things, you can turn your culture around.