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Motives, Manipulation and Morality

Motives, Manipulation and Morality

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about why people do things, and what they have in mind when they ask others to act in a particular way. It’s common to find that what people say is the reasoning behind their actions or requests isn’t the real motivation for either. I may do or say something that I claim is aimed at helping a colleague, but my real reasoning is that it will make me look good in the boss’s eyes. People make many requests that have ulterior, hidden motives. They often say things to manipulate others to do what they want. Internally, it’s called office politics, externally it’s called selling.

Questions of motivation and manipulation are important because they can undermine any leader’s authority. Leadership is an activity that comes with profound ethical and moral strings attached. You can try to deny or ignore them, but they’re still there. Doing the right thing from the wrong motives is a form of dishonesty that people nose out very rapidly.

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I’ll start with the second point. It seems more and more organizations are establishing policies designed to help people create a better work/life balance. At the same time, survey results show people are working just as hard, and many employees are convinced that taking advantage of these new policies will harm their careers.

How can this be? The answer, of course, is doing the right thing from the wrong motives. Where organizations introduce policies to look good, but don’t really believe in them, it swiftly becomes obvious the policies are only for show. You take advantage of them at your peril. It’s much the same when managers make cosmetic changes based on the hope they will make employees feel better and they’ll work harder as a result. That’s manipulation and people resent it. The only acceptable reason—the only honest reason—for doing the right thing is that it’s the right thing to do, regardless of any other benefits or drawbacks. Helping people gain better work/life balance is the right thing to do. Punishing them for taking you up on your offer, or doing it only in the belief that people will be grateful and give you more work in return, reveal base motivations behind seemingly generous actions.

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That brings me back to the first point.

There’s a kind of leadership attitude I call “business fundamentalism.” Like all other kinds of fundamentalism, it’s one-sided, dogmatic, conservative and intolerant of questioning. It’s proponents believe business decisions should be based solely on economic factors. For them, anything else is impractical.

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The essence of fundamentalism is believing there is only one way—the one you favor—and rejecting anything (and anyone) that suggests other possibilities might be worth exploring. Business fundamentalists see little or no moral aspect to business decisions, even those that affect the lives of other people. They may even have current company law on their side, through its assumption of a financial duty to shareholders to maximize their returns.

This seems to me to be blinkered and inadequate. Leadership is about making decisions, and where there is a decision, there is a question of right and wrong. You cannot remove the ethical and moral aspects from leadership. Even supposedly hard-headed financial decisions come with ethical questions attached. Is it right to abandon a pension scheme, even though doing so will cut out millions of dollars in costs and help the organization survive in better shape? Is it moral to send jobs overseas and lay off higher-paid workers at home? No one doubts the financial benefits, at least in the short term, but are finances the only consideration? Should an assumed duty to maximize shareholder returns override one’s moral duty to employees and the wider community?

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I’ll let you decide which side you want to come down on in this debate.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman and a retired business executive. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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Last Updated on September 15, 2020

7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

Overcoming fear and making life changes is hard. It’s even harder when it’s a big change—breaking up with someone you love, leaving your old job, starting your own business, or hundreds of other difficult choices.

Even if it’s obvious that making a big change will be beneficial, it can be tough. Our mind wants to stay where it’s comfortable, which means doing the same things we’ve always done[1].

We worry: how do we know if we’re making the right decision? We wish we knew more. How do we make a decision without all of the necessary information?

We feel stuck. How do we get past fear and move forward with that thing we want to do?

Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are 7 things to remember when you want to move forward and make positive life changes.

1. You’ll Never Have All the Information

We often avoid making important decisions because we want more information before we make a tough call.

Yes, it’s certainly true that you need to do your research, but if you’re waiting for the crystal clear answer to come to you, then you’re going to be waiting a long time. As humans, we are curious creatures, and our need for information can be paralyzing.

Life is a series of guesses, mistakes, and revisions. Make the best decision you can at the time and continue to move forward. This also means learning to listen to and trust your intuition. Here’s how.

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2. Have the Courage to Trust Yourself

We make all sorts of excuses for not making important life changes, but the limiting belief that often underlies many of them is that we don’t trust ourselves to do the right thing.

We think that if we get into a new situation, we won’t know what to do or how to react. We’re worried that the uncharted territory of the future will be too much for us to handle.

Give yourself more credit than that.

You’ve dealt with unexpected changes before, right? And when your car got a flat tire on the way to work, how did that end up? Or when you were unexpectedly dumped?

In the end, you were fine.

Humans are amazingly adaptable, and your whole life has been helping you develop skills to face unexpected challenges.

Have enough courage to trust yourself. No matter what happens, you’ll figure out a way to make it work.

3. What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Like jealousy, most of your fears are created in your own head.

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When you actually sit down and think about the worst case scenario, you’ll realize that there are actually very few risks that you can’t recover from.

Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Once you realize the worst isn’t that bad, you’ll be ready to crush it.

When you’re preparing to make a big life change, write down all of the things you’re afraid of. Are you afraid of failing? Of looking silly? Of losing money? Of being unhappy?

Then, address each fear by writing down ways you can overcome them. For example, if you’re afraid of losing money, can you take a few months to save up a safety net?

4. It’s Just as Much About the Process as It Is About the Result

We’re so wrapped up in results when we think about major life changes. We worry that if we start out towards a big goal, then we might not make it to the finish line.

However, you’re allowed to change your mind. And failing will only help you learn what not to do next time.

Furthermore, just because you don’t reach the final goal doesn’t mean you failed. You chose the goal in the first place, but you’re allowed to alter it if you find that the goal isn’t working out the way you hoped. Failure is not a destination, and neither is success.

Enjoy the process of moving forward[2].

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5. Continue to Pursue Opportunity

If you’re on the fence about a big decision, then you might be worried about getting locked into a position that you can’t escape from.

Think about it a different way. New choices rarely limit your options.

In fact, new pursuits often open up even more opportunities. One of the best things about going after important goals with passion is that they open up chances and options that you never could have expected in the beginning.

If you pursue the interesting opportunities that arise along the path to your goal, then you can be sure that you’ll always have choices.

6. Effort Matters, So Use It

It sounds simple, but one of the big reasons we don’t make life changes is because we don’t try. And we don’t try because then it’s easy to make excuses for why we don’t get what we want.

Flunked that test? Are you stupid? “Of course I’m not stupid. I just didn’t study. I would have gotten an A if I actually studied.”

Stuck in a job you hate? Why haven’t you found a new job yet? “Well, I haven’t really tried to get a new job. I could totally ace that interview if I wanted.”

Why do we make excuses like these to ourselves? It’s because if we try and fail, then we just failed. But if we don’t try, we can chalk it up to laziness.

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Get over it. Failure happens to everyone.

And the funny thing is, if you actually try—because it’s pretty clear that most people aren’t trying—then you’ll win a lot more than you think.

7. Start With Something Manageable

You can’t climb Everest if you don’t try hiking beforehand.

Maybe applying for your dream job seems intimidating right now. What can you start with today?

Can you talk to someone who already has that position and see what they think makes them successful? Can you improve your skills so you meet one of the qualifications? Can you take a free online course to expand your resume?

Maybe you’re not quite ready for a long-term relationship, but you know you want to start dating. Could you try asking out a mutual friend? Can you go out more with friends to practice your communication skills and meet new people?

You don’t need to be a world changer today; you just need to make small life changes in your own world.

More Tips to Help You Make Life Changes

Featured photo credit: Victor Rodriguez via unsplash.com

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