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Nelson Mandela

Is Honor a Part of Your Culture?

Act honorably, and you will be safe, proud and admired.

We are safer when we’re led and managed by honorable people because we trust them to do what they say they’ll do, even when things get tough. They reduce the uncertainties and risks in our difficult work lives.

What is honor, and who are honorable people?

Honor is the characteristic of sticking to one’s principles no matter what. Sometimes it's revealed in a single crisis, and sometimes we see it in the accumulation of a hundred small principled acts.

Mine honor is my life; both grow in one. Take honor from me, and my life is done. ― William Shakespeare

When Nelson Mandela sacrificed 27 years imprisoned at Robbins Island to break Apartheid’s back, refusing to compromise, that was honor. When Aung San Suu Kyi endured 15 years of house arrest to introduce democracy to Myanmar, that was honor.

There are limitless examples of honor in the workplace. When in the Great Recession tens of thousands of small business owners paid themselves nothing to protect their employees’ jobs, that was honor. When a victim of sexual harassment risks her job by blowing the whistle, that’s honor. When a supervisor gives all the credit to an employee so the employee can be promoted, that’s honor, too.

Our sacrifices set examples that strengthen our corporate culture, which in turn makes it easier for others to act honorably.

How do we develop honor?

  • Know your principles. Write down your own code and discuss your organization’s code (see The GM's Index term: 1.1.1 Business ethics.)
  • Help others keep their promises. They in turn will help you when difficulties threaten your principles.
  • Study people of honor, both the great and those nearby. Learn particularly from their dilemmas: acting honorably is hardest when promises conflict.

Clarity of communication helps avoid making a promise or promises you don’t mean to make. Choose your thoughts carefully and then choose your words carefully.

Can we regain honor once it’s lost?

I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.… - Sophocles

Broken honor, like broken trust, can never be fully repaired. Today we see people succeed from unprincipled behavior and dishonesty of a dozen kinds. But always act honorably, and you will be safe, proud and admired. Your customers and vendors will say, That's someone you can count on, no matter what.

Most important, your example will help those you work with—higher or lower in your organization—live up to their own highest principles. What is your code of honor?

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