The right thing vs the easy thing

Today I was talking with my father, who is an avid garage sale attendee. Dad told me about a small chest of drawers he’d bought last week from a pensioner. It cost him $30 (which is a big amount for my dad, who prides himself on going to garage sales with only gold coins in his pocket) and was filled with all sorts of drills and bits and pieces. When dad pulled the drawers out to wipe them over, he found a $50 note and a $20 note in the cavity underneath the bottom drawer.

Dad said to me, “I decided I’d have to return it, it’s the right thing to do, and mum agreed. Even though I could do with an extra $70, it didn’t seem right.”

He added that the gentleman was speechless when he went back to give him the money, which is an interesting reflection of our lowered expectations of others in today’s society.

This conversation echoes a theme that has been coming up in my workshops recently – the tension between the organisation / team’s aspirations and the tendency for managers to take the ‘easy way out’.

I want to explore this theme in future posts: developing the courage to speak up about what we value, in a way that doesn’t make the other party wrong, but reinforces what we believe is right and what we believe the other party values too.

Allied reading:

David Maister, in Strategy & the Fat Smoker, writes that if you cannot say no to a piece of work or a client which falls outside your stated strategy, then you don’t really have a strategy.

Robert Fritz, in the Managerial Moment of Truth, shows how to talk with someone when they’ve failed to keep an agreement.

The Arbinger Institute, in Leadership and Self-Deception, talks about how we put ourself in a box whenever we know what is the right thing to do and yet chose a different action. From a psychological perspective we then have to deceive ourselves about the reasons for the choice so that we don’t have to confront our inconsistency.

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