This post is the fiftieth part of a ramble-rant about the software business. The current posts in this series can be found on the series landing page.
This post is about credibility.
The Internal List
I believe everyone has an Internal List of Acceptable Actions (ILAA). I read this in a book about Values-Based Leadership – it may have been this book, I cannot recall. Before I read about the ILAA, I knew it existed. I believe the ILAA is a sorted list, and that the sorting is in order of most-acceptable to least-acceptable. Acceptable to whom? Others, community, or society.
ILAA’s share some characteristics and are a manifestation of our individual consciences. Human conscience is comparable to the Three Laws of Robotics. Actions a human may or may not take are coupled to – are instances of, if you prefer – the rules embedded in our conscience. For example, rescuing a kitten from a life-threatening situation should be near the top of everyone’s ILAA.
Humans Are Not Robots
Our consciences differ. As a result, our individual ILAA’s vary. In most cases, the variance is small and may be insignificant. In some cases, the variance is extreme. In my opinion, ILAA’s are the best metric to determine the values of others. At a minimum, observing the actions of others reveals what they considerable acceptable.
Credibility, Are We There Yet?
This brings us to credibility. Credibility sounds noble. But I consider credibility neutral. “Why, Andy?” I’m glad you asked: I believe a person can be credible and yet hold values detrimental to society, other individuals, or a community. Some I consider credible hold values with which I simply disagree, but they are consistent in their communication and action - and therefore credible. Values are exposed when we observe how people act. I call this listening to what people do.
I believe once a person has demonstrated they are capable of unacceptable behavior – to anyone, for any reason – they have demonstrated they are capable of that same behavior towards you. Why? It’s on their ILAA. They just proved it to you. If you witness a co-worker take something that belongs to another co-worker, they are demonstrating they are capable of stealing from you. If you observe your business partner treat another partner - or a competitor, or a customer, or anyone - unfairly, they are communicating they are capable of treating you unfairly. If you see an organization abuse one person, that organization is explaining “You could be next”. If it is on the ILAA, everyone is a potential target. Remember, this is about what is inside the individual.
Although circumstances may be used to excuse, reason, or justify; circumstances do not apply here. ILAA’s are about capability.
I see credibility as consistency between Values and Actions. When what I say matches what I do, people will judge me credible. When what I say does not align with what I do, people will subtract credibility from their estimation. It would be awesome if it were that simple, but it’s not. There are at least two places that are subject to interpretation:
- The interpretation by others of what I say.
- The interpretation by others of what I do.
What I Say Is Important
What we say tells us something about what’s inside. In the Court of Public Opinion, everything I say is used for or against me. That’s normal and fair and isn’t going to change. For these reasons, it’s important to consider what I say (or write). Even if I’m very precise (which I am not), what I say and write is subject to interpretation. This is especially true about what I write: I’ve been told I am “direct” in writing. That likely stems from my training as an engineer, but that is merely an excuse. It does not help someone reading my “direct” email to think “maybe Andy is just being an engineer”. And, it leads to confusion in the instances when I am sincerely communicating something unpleasant in a direct manner (it happens).
Things are always lost in translation, regardless of the communication medium. Email is particularly susceptible to this.
I have learned I never have to explain or apologize for things I do not say or write. This has made me less likely to contribute to conversations when I don’t have something positive to add. In matters with which I disagree, I find Gamaliel’s strategy appealing. After Jesus’ death, his followers were still stirring people up. The rulers in Jerusalem had the followers arrested and then told them to stop. But the followers refused, which infuriated the rulers. As the rulers considered what to do next, Gamaliel spoke...
How do I apply this? I believe much in life (and society and community) is organic. I believe things grow – and perish – organically, and that this is part of a natural cycle. To politely apply an organic metaphor, fertilizer will promote growth; but too much fertilizer will kill. Mixing different types of fertilizer can be harmful or deadly to the very things we’re trying to grow, while the correct mixture will support maximum growth. If I can help, I will. If I cannot help, I’m keeping my fertilizer to myself. If there’s a problem, it will self-correct (one way or the other). If the thing is meant to be, it will be. If not, it will fail. All on its own.
I have reached the following conclusion: Sometimes what I intend for help merely distracts from the real issue(s) and thereby prolongs the inevitable organic result.
What I Do Is Important
I noticed a pattern in my behavior this past year: I was doing a lot of things on autopilot. Most of the time this was fine. I have mostly good habits that have served me well over the years. Habits like treating others better than I treat myself, decent priorities, serving people as they crossed my path. That sounds good, but those habits – like the Three Laws of Robotics mentioned earlier – are subject to failure. My habits led me to places I didn’t like at times this past year. One example is found in the apology to which I alluded earlier.
Another example is my priorities. I had the best of intentions but my priorities were out of whack. Looking back, I now realize I had picked the best and most noble paving stones from the center of the road to Hell (which is paved with good intentions). Through engaging in a Bible Study group with some friends and brothers, I believe God revealed this subtle and tragic error in my priorities. Through this same Bible Study, circumstances, and prayer; God has been - and continues - correcting my trajectory.
One result? My word for 2012 is: Intentional. Good habits are good to have, but they are no substitute for thinking. I have been lazy, relegating to good habits matters which require active engagement, thought, and sometimes change. I could write for hours (literally) about the stuff that’s already changed in my life as a result of this reevaluation and active realignment of my priorities but this post is long enough! Some major areas already impacted include:
- Physical fitness
- Matters of faith
- Giving (time, money, technical help, social awareness)
There is more to come. Being Intentional is one goal for 2012.
I have learned this past year the importance of forgiveness – of both giving and receiving it. Communities are a social ecology as much as a social economy (more on this later…). If my apology taught me nothing else, it demonstrated to me that our technical community is a forgiving one. Other communities in which I participate share this characteristic.
For me, maintaining credibility is a natural result of choosing to live more transparently. That applies to all areas of my life: family, faith, business, and everything else. I believe credibility works the same for organizations and communities as it does for individuals. In 2012, I will continue to urge the organizations, communities, and individuals I love to practice transparency – and thereby garner more credibility. I will strive to be intentional in all I say and all I do.