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Transcript: Understanding your Moral Compass in the Workplace (EP99)


Brendan: Welcome to The Culture of Leadership. We have conversations that help you develop and become a more confident leader. This is my conversation with Colleen Doyle Bryant, where we talk about the importance of having a strong moral compass in the workplace. 

Colleen is the author of 5 books and more than 50 learning resources about character and values. Her latest book, Rooted in Decency, looks at the decline in common decency in society and ways that we can build more trust in corporation. To understand your own moral compass, it’s important to understand the difference between moral values, personal values, and company values.

Confident leaders understand the impact of their decisions on others and prioritize human-to-human connections, respect, responsibility, truth, and compassion. Colleen shares practical insights on how to strengthen truth and compassion, and why open dialogue and trust are crucial in creating a healthy work environment.

If you want to learn how to become a confident leader with a strong, moral compass, tune-in to the episode. This is the Culture of Leadership podcast. I’m Brendan Rogers. Sit back and enjoy my conversation with Colleen.

How did this come about?

Colleen: I started out writing books about how to make good choices for the right reasons when I noticed that there was this gap in the way that my kids were learning about it in school. My kids were young during that self-esteem parenting revolution, where there's this big focus on teaching kids to feel good about themselves and to never let them feel bad about themselves.

The downside of that (among several things) is that they weren't developing a sense that bad choices feel bad and good choices feel good. To help them develop that connection between their minds, their bodies, and why you make good choices, I started coming up with ways at home to talk to them about it. Years later, I found that this was not a situation unique to me. There are a lot of parents dealing with the same issue.

I started writing books and teaching resources for first elementary students. As my kids became teenagers and those problems changed, the content of the books changed, too, to reflect more of the issues that teens saw in the world.

As far as the adult book, that came out of the idea that all these parents understand that it's important to teach our kids about honesty, respect, and responsibility. But as I looked around, particularly here in the US, in the past number of years, it seemed like the adults weren't really practicing what they preached. There was this decline in the way that people treated each other and talked to each other. I found myself questioning, why? What's going on? This is so counter to what I know of decent human behavior.

Anyway, the research that went into what started as a personal curiosity, revealed all these wonderful insights about how we interact as human beings and how we have learned over eons of time to behave in certain ways so that we can build relationships with each other based on trust and fairness, so that we can cooperate towards common goals. That is the basis of morality.

Brendan: This book is rooted in decency. What's the impact you're trying to have with a book like this?

Colleen: The first thing for folks, I think, is there's some frustration. There's a lack of understanding about what's going on. Why are people acting like this? It's very unsettling the way people are acting.

The first part of the book looks at why, how is that manifesting, and how that might be impacting you personally? How might that be impacting your own behavior, your personal well-being, or your relationships with other people? The second half of the book faces the question of, okay, well, we've established in the first part of the book that this is what's happening, this is why it's happening, and this is why it's not really very good for us.

Rather, if we lived by these core values that guide human behavior, human positive interactions, we would all be happier and better off, what does that really look like? What does it mean to be a decent person? How do we take these core values that have persisted across humanity over time and really structure our lives so that we get the benefits of living by those?

Brendan: You talk a little bit about moral compass and what this moral compass is. Can you explain what a moral compass is?

Colleen: Every day, we're faced with lots of decisions. Some of those choices are big choices, where the decision we make is going to send out significant impacts to other people. We need to consider the type of impact we're having on other people. That's what a big moral decision is like. Is this thing I'm doing going to cause negative ripple effects, damage, and harm to other people?

But there are lots of small decisions that we make everyday also. Is this honest? Is this respectful? Is it responsible? What should I do? How should I behave? Through the research for the book, I've come up with these four core values that I've mentioned started long before legal systems, even the moral codes and religions, that people figured out are behaviors that other people value, that promote our ability to trust and cooperate with each other, and if we put these on a compass that we use as a guide, because we're not going to know exactly what to do in every situation that comes up. But if we have these principles, these guidelines, this compass can help us choose the right direction in any situation that appears.

Brendan: Do we all have a moral compass?

Colleen: That's an interesting question because if you ask the evolutionary biologists, we do. In fact, it's built into our bodies at this point in our evolution. There are ways that bodily processes will tell us if we are behaving in line with those four core values that facilitate human cooperation. At the same time, are people unnecessarily aware of it? Are they consciously sitting around saying, let me refer to my handy-dandy moral compass? Probably not.

We know that based on people's behavior and what we're seeing, but also because we see things like the rise in toxic workplace culture. When you really dig into what are the causes of toxic workplace culture, they are the same four values. They're things around disrespect, dishonesty, and lack of fairness. They're actually really fundamentally human behaviors that we ought to know, but maybe we aren't acting the way we should these days.

Brendan: We all have a moral compass, but some of our compasses need some realignment, some readjustment?

Colleen: Yeah, I think there's an argument to be made that we need a little bit of a refresh about what these behaviors look like, how we act on them, and particularly, you look at a corporation. We're talking about leadership here. A company can put out corporate values, but unless they explain to people, what does that look like, how do you actually use that in the course of your daily life, do they know what you mean?

There hasn't been enough of a cultural shift in about the past 30 years. There's a reason that we're being as nasty (let's say) as we are right now, at least here in America, that it may be time for a refresh about what matters, why it's in our own personal best interest to behave according to these values, why it's in our group best interest, and then what does that actually look like in real life.

Brendan: We're going to get into your three ways to understand your moral compass in the workplace. That's the crux of what we're talking about today. Thank you for the introduction, the lead in. The words that stuck with me really sadly are handy-dandy compass. It reminds me of Bluey's Handy-Dandy Notebook. Was it Bluey Handy-Dandy Notebook?

Colleen: I don't know. I haven't heard of that.

Brendan: You having four children, I know they're older. I'm thinking, well, you're watching with a Bluey there or something. It's fantastic. Very memorable points, though.

Colleen: Maybe I've blocked it out.

Brendan: The handy-dandy compass, I'm going to be thinking about that often now. I love that little catchphrase. Let's get into the three ways to understand your moral compass. What's the first way?

Colleen: The first thing we need to understand is there's a difference between personal values, corporate values, and moral values. Right now, especially following the pandemic, employees are asking themselves what matters to them. What do they value? What matters to them in the way that they pursue their lives? We've seen a lot of personal values tests pop up all over the Internet.

I think there are also probably consultant groups going into corporations and trying to help people sort out how they find meaning and what matters to them. That's all well and good, as long as we recognize we're using the same words to describe different things.

Let me first say, in terms of moral values, what are the values that are on this compass that I'm talking about? They are truth, respect, responsibility, and compassion. When we behave by the characteristics within those four values, we have better relationships, we have more cooperation, we have better individual and shared well-being. But when you look at these personal values tests, the way they describe the process is we're going to give you a list of (say) a couple of dozen words, things they're calling values, and you pick whatever 3–5 resonate with you. That list might include some things like honesty and respect, but it also includes things like creativity, autonomy, beauty, wealth. 

You might note that one can pursue wealth in creative and autonomous ways and be wholly immoral. They can leave a trail of destruction behind them in the pursuit of those goals if they pursue them in a way that doesn't take into account the fact that they are individuals who are working among other people, and they send out ripples in every choice that they make. Unless people pursue those personal values with this foundation of core moral values, they might really do some harm. At the end of the day, they might not be a very good person. 

We have a similar situation in the corporate value space, where corporations will put out their values, and that's really about culture. It's about what is important within the company, how do we want people to focus their priorities, and have an idea of how they're going about what they're doing.

There's an underlying assumption that employees will be doing that on top of this foundation of core moral values because if a corporation says we value innovation and excellence, we can very methodically innovate something that does great harm in the world, or we can go about it in a way that is cruel to our employees. Personal values, corporate values, any other value system that you have, it has to sit on top of these four human moral values that facilitate social cooperative human life.

Brendan: Truth, respect, responsibility, and compassion. How do they intersect? If you're maintaining a level of truth—then again you talked a little bit about that through some of the examples you've given—in relation to these four pillars, how do they intersect? You could be acting truthful and responsible in a certain way, but then the compassion and respect could not be there, so you still don't have that ideal moral compass that we're talking about.

Colleen: The thing with values is they don't exist in silos. The way we make moral decisions is more about given the circumstances, given our intentions, given the degrees and all these nuanced factors of real life, we figure out which values we need to apply, in what amounts, and in what way.

This actually leads really well into our next way to understand your moral compass at work, which is that values don't exist in black and white, and they don't exist independently of each other. They actually exist more on a continuum, where you have to consider each of them with respect to the others.

This makes a little more sense through an example. Let's say we look at truth. People might think that truth means it's either true or it's deceitful. But that's not really how life works, is it? There are plenty of times when we will tell a white lie out of compassion. Does that make it wrong? But then, hey, where's the line between a white lie told out of compassion and respect and an intentional lie to deceive or manipulate someone?

On the other hand, on the other side of the continuum, we would look at something like, what's the difference between telling someone a hard truth they need to hear, but doing in a way that's respectful and compassionate, versus telling a hard truth either with mal intent or in a way that's just cruel? 

If we take truth and say, there's somewhere in the middle, there's somewhere where it's the right value to apply in the right amount to the right person in the right way, but you can have too little truth in this increasingly gray area into where you're in outright mal intent and deceit. And you can have too much truth, where you may cross the line from a hard truth told with good intent into more of a hard truth told unkindly or for the wrong reasons.

Brendan: Colleen, are you saying that if we've got this personal moral compass based on these four values and we're living those, then if you're working as a leader or any person in a work environment, and they've got decency, they've got a decent moral compass, then there will always be some form of alignment from behavioral perspective? Is it as easy as that?

Colleen: I wouldn't say it's easy, necessarily, but it is fundamental, and it's really obvious once you see that it's there. If you look at ancient moral philosophy, you look at human evolution, you look at happiness science, you look at stress management science, you look at tons of business books about how teams work effectively and how leaders lead well, these same four behaviors come up over and over and over again. The fact that they're that consistent means that they are foundational to our behavior. But the fact that they come up that often in so many different ways, it means that people probably need coaching in different aspects of their life and how to apply those values well.

Brendan: How do we strengthen truth?

Colleen: First is to make sure that people understand what you mean by truth. Truth is to represent things as they actually are with good intent. If we're going to bend the truth or conceal the truth, it needs to be for good reason. If we're going to sacrifice accuracy, there needs to be a good intent.

The other thing we have to consider is consequences. In what ways does changing withholding truth affect our other moral values? Does it bring up an issue of irresponsibility? Will it do some harm to well-being? Does it bring up an issue of respect or compassion, where maybe by not sharing some information, you are holding somebody back, or you're withholding something from them that they need for their own well-being?

One is just to have this framework and a language, some guidelines for how we talk about what truth is. The other thing is to help people realize the importance of truth because life runs on relationships and relationships run on trust. Trust depends on truth.

The reason we want to be truthful is because we're establishing a reputation as someone who's trustworthy. People need to know we'll represent ourselves accurately. They need to know we'll do our interactions with them with honesty and with integrity. They need to know our intentions are good. Because if they're not, why would they want to trust us? If they don't want to trust us, they don't want to cooperate with us.

Brendan: We're not going to unpack each four, but you mentioned compassion, which I think is a really important element across the board. Define compassion in a little bit more detail. How do we strengthen, how do we improve that pillar in the compassion space of how to really impact others?

Colleen: This one's especially important today because I think we're seeing this shift in our social understanding of what fairness is, what inclusion is, what our roles and responsibilities are to each other so that we can live up to the ideals we've set for modern moral democracy of fairness and equality. We're asking people—leaders in particular—to show up and to be genuine, people who are wanting to be their authentic selves and connect with people.

Compassion is this wonderful value. It helps us see the human in each other and recognize that we're all vulnerable. We all have hearts that break and bodies that bleed. Really, if we don't take care of each other, we can do great damage. 

Compassion establishes that human-vulnerability connection, and it helps us to find ways to share joy with each other. It's part of the whole empathic process, where we celebrate the good times, but we also see each other’s suffering and help each other through the hard times.

It's a very inspirational value compared to some of the others, which are much more practical in terms of how we relate to each other. Compassion lifts us up and helps make life easier. But in terms of a leader, one of the issues we see around compassion right now is that there are all these demands for people to be more empathetic. But empathy has some drawbacks in a workplace environment.

Empathy says, I will feel your pain with you. From a leader's perspective, that's not really practical in the workplace. It can also blur their judgment. If they're trying to make decisions and they're feeling someone's pain along with them, that may influence them to make a decision based more on resolving their own discomfort than about solving the actual problem that's there.

When we look from a more objective perspective with compassion on the continuum, compassion is where we see that there is pain, we see that there is suffering, and we acknowledge that human-to-human contact. We say, I see that you are hurting, the care instinct in me, and a human is responding to that, but I need to retain this level of objectivity that then considers the other moral values and says, what's the responsible way to address the situation? What's the fair way to address the situation?

Compassion is celebrating the goods, helping each other through the bads, but retaining a level of objectivity so that we're honoring what's in our well-being in the long term.

Brendan: Colleen, if a leader is struggling in the compassion space, what mindset shift needs to happen for a person to want to be more compassionate or to be improving in the level of compassionateness, if that's a word?

Colleen: I will say the main thing there is to separate yourself just a little bit as a human being. Because even if you can't relate to someone directly, there's something in your life that you can relate through. No matter who someone is or what they've done, when someone is hurting, we have an instinct to see that hurt and to feel that hurt. There are things that happen in our bodies that respond to that hurt.

If we come at it just from that human perspective, take all of the specifics out of it and just first see them as a human being and relate to how would I be in that situation, I think that it puts a little bit of that distance there, where you can relate without feeling so affected by it. You can find something in your life, where you can connect and understand other people.

Brendan: Let me push you again in the leadership development context. If you had to say which one of the four is the most important in your view, which is it?

Colleen: Everything starts with truth because without truth, everything else you do is just an empty promise. Relationships are based on trust. That's the bottom level. If you don't have trust there, the rest of it, why would people even venture to give you part of their well-being in your hands if they don't trust you to take good care of it?

Brendan: I think that's a great answer, Colleen. I know you mentioned number two already, but re-mention number two just for clarity's sake. Let's talk a little bit about that share. Unpack that a bit for us.

Colleen: Sure. number two is the idea that these values don't exist in silos, and they don't exist in a dichotomous black and white. They exist on a continuum. There is too little of it and there's too much of it. What we do as humans is we look at all those gray areas, we look at the nuances, we look at the intent, the circumstances, and we figure out what's the right amount of that virtue to apply in a given situation.

Brendan: How does our environment growing up affect number two?

Colleen: I suppose it depends on how dogmatic your parents were. We certainly see a shift in the way parenting has been done. There used to be this father-knows-best, head of the household, what I say goes, we broke no discussion. That affected leadership for a long time, where we had more of this authoritative way, what the leader says is what it is, and you roll with it. But we don't have that kind of culture right now.

People are raised with a lot more sense of their own individuality and their own ability to shape their view of the world, what they think is acceptable, what behaviors are okay, what reciprocity and give-and-take they expect from other people.

I think if you're raised in a more modern environment that says, hey, let's consider the nuance and the individuality of things, you're probably a little bit more open to seeing those continuums and helping people think through and work through those continuous, than if you're raised perhaps in a dogmatic environment that says, you do what I say and you don't argue about it, it's not open for discussion.

Brendan: Is that where you think leaders find the challenge or a challenging space that these things aren't black and white, it's not, this is always the way and this is always not the right way around these values?

Colleen: I think that's a challenge for everyone, really. If they were easy, we wouldn't call them moral dilemmas. Life is complicated. I think part of the issue is we don't really articulate it. We don't necessarily explain. This is how you think through an issue about truth. This is how you think through an issue of respect.

I write books for children and teenagers because part of the reason was, I needed to be able to explain to my kids why truth mattered and how you thought about issues of truth. I can tell that they have a language to communicate that with me that probably isn't something that's in the general population because people just don't sit around thinking about it.

Brendan: It strikes me that point two about these values just aren't black and white, that it sits in the space of nuance and context. What nuance or context? Can you provide an example where this explains this in that case of nuance because that's the variation that I find in a leadership development space that, again, there are so many great books out there, but it's the context of the situation that changes these moral dilemmas and these decision makings on a day-to-day basis? Can you give us an example around that?

Colleen: I don't know if I can think of something super specific. I would say the first thing to think about is intent matters. There's a difference between manslaughter and murder, and it has to do with intent. But today, maybe you'd see zero tolerance policies might be an example. Zero tolerance policies take the nuance out of the situation. They say it doesn't matter what your intent was, it doesn't matter the severity of the offense, we're going to treat them all the same with zero tolerance.

That's really a problem because the way that we deal with moral dilemmas is we say, well, based on intent, that affects what consequence there is based on the degree of the wrongdoing. That's what should influence what consequence is applied to someone.

You have this issue now in a corporate environment. Let's say you have a zero tolerance policy, where an unintended action caused somebody offense, and therefore they were fired, which is a harsh consequence. But maybe you have a different situation, where you have a boss who regularly berates and belittles their employees, is basically committing an offense against respect by degrading their employees on a regular basis, and yet they're not reprimanded. There's no consequence there.

I suppose that would be an example where circumstances matter, and you can't remove circumstances and intent without coming upon an issue, where you have a different moral moral violation, which is, is it fair? Is it just? Are we holding people accountable in a reasonable way?

Brendan: The thing that strikes me, Colleen, is as a human race, we supposedly think we're pretty smart, and we're getting smarter. We talk lots around these things. It's a leadership buzz and has been for many, many years. But in a workplace environment, the research shows that our workplaces are getting worse. We're getting smart or smarter about these things, but our workplaces seem to be, based on research, not improving around these things in the quality of leadership and the environments that have been created. What's missing?

Colleen: I suppose it depends a little bit upon when you're referencing those studies were done and where. Are they more recent?

Brendan: I don't know when the Gallup one. I think the last one that I'd looked at was about 2018, a Gallup study around engagement, figures, and those sorts of things.

Colleen: One reason we see that there's a rise in disrespect and a shift in people's moral compasses is that there's this decline that started about 30 years ago. I don't know the extent to which this is super American-specific versus Western democracy–specific. But based on the way I've looked at the news and other cultures, I think the effects have bled out on a more global Western democracy level, which is that around 30 years ago, we started changing the way that we talk to each other, and about each other. Rather than presenting issues in terms of here's the issue, here's how it helps well-being, here's how it harms well-being, let's negotiate the terms.

Instead of doing that, there was the shift that started to happen, where we started speaking in terms of moral absolutes and moral disgust. One thing to understand is that moral disgust isn't just an intellectual exercise, it's a biological and emotional thing. It's based on our gustatory response, which is a biological thing that helps protect us from things that are dangerous.

Let's say I had right now a plate of rotting meat. It's gray, it smells, it's covered in maggots, and I stick it under your nose and I say, does this smell bad to you? What would typically happen in a human, if you did that, they'd be like, ugh. Their nose would scrunch up. They pull back and away because that's something that's dangerous for them. It's a threat to their well-being. That gustatory response triggers in the same part of our brain, whether we're thinking about something that's physically disgusting or something that's morally disgusting.

For 30 years, we see the shift where it starts in politics, it moves to the media and talk radio at the time, and then into the regular vernacular of the way people speak, where we present issues as if they are morally disgusting, as if I am right and you're wrong, and it's not only that you're wrong, but that you are wrong for some moral failing.

You should be ashamed of what you're thinking, How can you even consider thinking like that? That's sick. That's disgusting. That's a betrayal. Those people are like cancer that are trying to destroy us. Those ways of talking, where we're representing people have morally failed, makes them not just intellectually someone who has a different opinion, it makes them seem like there's someone who is physically dangerous to us.

It's so commonplace now, whether it's a workplace issue or just people sitting around the dinner table having conversation, we start casting issues and other people with this very weighty moral judgment. It puts people in a state of feeling like they need to protect themselves and feeling like they're in a state of self-defense.

Think about what happens to your moral compass. We've said the moral compass is normally there to help us engage with people to form relations, patience, trust, fairness, and cooperation. But if you've spent 30 years dealing in an environment, where you're constantly in a state of threat, and you're viewing other people as if they're dangerous, instead of engaging as trust and cooperation, you're engaging with people in terms of them being a threat to you.

Is it okay to lie? What if it's to save a life? Is it okay to be violent? What if it protects you and your family? We've seen this degrading of moral compasses, where people are justifying treating people in a different way because they see them as a threat.

We've also seen in studies that when people view other people with moral contempt, moral anger, or moral disgust in the workplace, they will treat them disrespectfully because of that moral judgment that they're making toward them. Why is it getting worse? That would be one of the reasons. This degrading of the discourse in the way that we're talking to and about each other that's affecting our very terms of engagement.

Brendan: I assume there are studies trying to learn how that's happened. Hopefully, we can learn from past mistakes. How have we evolved into this moral absolute situation, this canceling stuff?

Colleen: We've been like the frogs in the beaker. It's been happening so slowly. We didn't really recognize it, until here we are. We're starting to wake up and say, oh, this is pretty bad. If trust, respect, responsibility, and compassion for each other, are the foundation for how humans cooperate in civil social society, we're seeing the breakdown of that occurring. It's starting to raise the flag where people are pushing back.

You see a lot more articles now, where people are pushing back against the disrespect and the aggression. Companies are getting more strict about not allowing customers to behave that way. We really need our public figures to be holding them accountable when they are not living up to those social standards. I think you are seeing certainly a dialogue pushing back against the canceling and the victimhood culture, seeing that it's counterproductive to our ability to work together and move forward.

Brendan: If we don't push back and continue to make adjustments into the right level of moral compass, what do you see happening in 10, 20, 30, 40 years time for society as a whole?

Colleen: I think that we constantly go through social evolution. We're constantly renegotiating the terms about what behaviors are acceptable, about what the fair exchanges in our relationships are, and what our responsibilities are to each other. That's something that happens constantly. But right now, we're in a little bit more of a touchy inflection point. It's entered into our consciousness that things could or maybe should be different than they are.

It doesn't mean that we just flip on a dime and all of a sudden, we live in that way. There's this process we have to go through where we say, all right, now that we think we know what it could or should look like, how do we make reality match that idea. It's actually business leaders today who are doing a lot of the work to say, I have a really vested interest in making sure that people are able to cooperate, that they are creating positive work environments.

Let us as business leaders figure out what that could look like, what programs, what fairness and inclusion programs? How do we hold each other accountable? How do we reopen dialogue and stop this canceling, shutdown of dialogue? I actually think business leaders are really pushing in there. They're the ones who are going to lead us out of it by necessity.

Brendan: Linking back to the four aspects of the moral compass, which of those do leaders need to call on most in order to readjust the environments, this moral absolute trajectory that we've been on and hopefully move away from?

Colleen: That's a tough question. I would say it's going to be a combination of respect and responsibility, because respect is an unwritten agreement that every human in a social relationship agrees to. Anyone in society—no one is actually a really functioning participating member of society—has this unwritten agreement that I will treat you with care and dignity. And in return, I should be able to expect you to treat me with care and dignity.

We come into this, particularly in a modern Western democracy, from a state of equality, where we're going to work to be fair. When we don't, we'll hold each other accountable. We'll use justice to make sure that we keep that relationship, that I will treat you with care and you'll treat me with care, because otherwise we'll destroy each other. I think we need to get back to that realization that we're in a relationship with each other, every single one of us.

We're not just these individuals living in our own little bubbles, unaffected by other people, and not affecting the people around us. It's actually that our well-being is intrinsically linked to all these other people. It's in our best interest that we're treating them with that care, dignity, fairness, and equality because we want the same thing in return.

We're going to need to see a reawakening of this idea that my self-interest is tied to yours. When I help you create well-being, it then in turn helps create my well-being. We're in this together. We both need to be acting by these values for us both to do well.

Brendan: I'm sure you have an opinion, but whether it's backed up by some of the research you're involved in and studying. The last few years—obviously, everyone knows that the pandemic comes up a lot—how has things like lockdowns in many countries and that lack of social interaction had an impact, either positively or negatively around this trajectory that we're on?

Colleen: It ought to be a wake up call. The hope would be that we'd realize just how much we aren't just individuals living in our own bubbles, but we really do depend upon other people for the functioning of life. We saw all those grocery store clerks, first responders, and bus drivers, all these people that we depend upon every day just to live our lives. But we also should see more of that connection, how important it is to us to make that human-to-human connection, the one we're talking about with compassion that says, no matter who you are, no matter where you are, we are both human beings.

I see your vulnerability and you see mine. We find a better life when we share that together. I don't necessarily have data to back that up, but my hope would be we don't lose the lessons that we ought to have learned in that situation.

Brendan: What's the third way to understand the moral compass in the workplace, Colleen?

Colleen: It's something we've touched on. We tend to think of this moral compass as, what are the guidelines when I've got big decisions? But really, the moral compass is a guideline for daily living. It's this idea of common decency. What are the ways that we expect each other to act so that we can create positive environments?

If we had a bit more clarity about that, we'd probably be seeing less of the toxic workplace culture. If we had more action with respect to those values, if we're living by them a bit more, we'd have fewer issues probably with mental and physical health because we'd have a greater sense of our own self-respect, we'd have a greater sense of our own agency. It needs to be more a reflection for everyday interaction, not just the big moments.

Brendan: What does a small act of common decency look like compared to not showing common decency?

Colleen: Let's take this with respect to a team. Do you do your job? Do you get your work done on time where other people are depending upon you? Because if you don't do your duty, then you're not being responsible.

How about kindness? Maybe there is a truth that somebody needs to hear. If you're responsible, you're going to tell them that truth. If you're compassionate, you're going to do it nicely.

How about respect? Respect is a huge one right now. If you're sitting in a meeting, do you sit there on your computer typing and doing your email, or do you pay attention? When someone finishes talking, do you roll your eyes and do this dismissive act of disrespect, or do you treat them as a fellow human who's standing there in a room fully vulnerable in front of other people and treat them with the care that you would want to receive in that same situation?

Brendan: My analytical mind, and I know you also have a bit of that in your personality, Colleen, back to the moral compass which underpins everything in those four areas—truth, respect, responsibility, compassion, coincidently four. Let's focus on leaders again. That's what the podcast is about, leadership development. If leaders were to focus on those four, could you suggest to them to break that up into each quarter of the year?

I'm going to focus on each one of these and ideally lift my performance by 25% so that I become fantastic. What would you suggest for them to focus on in quarter one, quarter two, quarter three, quarter four, depending on which of those areas of moral compass you flow through?

Colleen: That's a pretty big question. I have not prepared a business application of my compass model. I can just say from a high level perspective that if you took one value at a time to help people understand what it really means, what does it mean to look at it on a continuum, not in terms of a black and white? Look at examples of how that applies within our industry, within our company, within the sorts of problems that we deal with, and the interactions that we want to have with each other.

Really, make it more applicable and specific, because then you're going to have expectations. People are going to be able to embrace that in terms of how I live this every day. You'll have that common language to talk about things when people aren't modeling the behaviors. How do you call attention to something that you don't know how to describe? And then encouraging an open dialog, where people have the psychological safety to bring up the fact that people maybe aren't honoring these values that we're trying to embrace as a group.

Brendan: Because truth is foundational, as you referred to earlier in the show, let's say truth is quarter one, accountability you've mentioned a couple of times, and that's absolutely critical and everything we're doing in improving performance, what do leaders need to do to be accountable to truth?

Colleen: They should model it. They should first have an honest self-assessment. They need to understand who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, how people perceive them, and to be willing to honestly address that and not choose to believe what's convenient, not ignore the things they don't want to hear, and then they need to demonstrate that to other people.

One of the things we keep talking about is this idea of authenticity. People want to know that you're genuine. They want to know that you are who you say you are and that you will do the things you'll say you'll do. That doesn't mean that you need to completely open up your soul to your team. That's not what truth means, that's not what authenticity means.

It just means that within the role that you're playing as a leader, what are the expectations of that role? What are your roles or the give-and-take in the relationship? What are people expecting from you? It's that core, who am I? How am I showing up? And how am I being true to my values and who I am? But within the scope of the role of a leader, people don't really want to see the total inner workings of their leader because they're looking for a certain amount of security and stability.

Let's not confuse and think that means you've got to cry during a board meeting. That's not what it means. It means that you're true to your values, they know that you are who you say you are, and that you'll do what you say you'll do.

Brendan: Colleen, thank you very much for unpacking this. Actually, on our show, being in a leadership development type in creating confident leaders, we are talking a lot about values. They come up in behaviors around those things, absolutely, but we've never had it framed this way. I just want to say a massive thank you for that. I really liked the framing and how that works, the moral compass, and the aspects of that. Fantastic.

I think it actually puts forward in a simple way that people should be able to understand. The way I look at it is that all of these other words, and you mentioned a list of stuff that I don't understand, but I certainly know some consultants out there that give people a listen. I choose these, and I think they always come up with aspirational values because they want to be this rather than what's core to them.

I've never really understood it too much, but it gives people a framework, I think. People would love frameworks to work in. Thank you. Colleen, what has had the biggest impact for you in your leadership journey to help you become a more confident leader?

Colleen: I can say my experience in delving into this idea of continuums has helped me have more confidence when I have to make difficult decisions. As a caring human being, you don't want to cause people harm. You want to do the right thing and be a good person. But it can be hard to look someone in the eye and say, this is what we're going to do.

Now that I have these continuums, I can say, here's why. Here's the framework that I use to decide this difficult decision in this way. I think it supports fairness, I think it is an act of respect, or I think here's how it plays with compassion.

The fact that I can articulate the reason why, it makes me feel better that I'm doing the right thing, and that those people will understand. Even if they're not happy about it, they'll see that there's a reason. It's not just some arbitrary or selfish whim I've got, but there's a reason that I have to do the hard things that I have to do.

Brendan: Colleen, where can listeners get your books? You've got children's books, and you've ventured into the adult space rooted in decency in your latest book. Where can they find these?

Colleen: You can find all of my books and teaching resources, blogs, links to all of those things, on my website, colleendoylebryant.com. You can also find me on Instagram and all the other channels using that same name.

Brendan: Thank you, Colleen. You are prolific. When does book six come out and what's it about?

Colleen: I don't know. This business angle has actually been really interesting. I've been working with someone offline, who is taking the continuums, using them in the workplace, and actually creating training. I'm finding that process fascinating. Who knows? Maybe that'll lead to something, or maybe I'll just focus on getting these messages out and see what I can do to change this culture of moral judgment into something more cooperative and trusting.

Brendan: Sounds fantastic to me, Colleen. Many more people needed to fly the flag, so keep flying it high. Thank you very much for doing what you're doing and sharing what you've shared today. I'm really excited actually now that we've connected virtually face-to-face, so to speak. Continue doing that, but follow your journey and seeing where it takes us. Thanks very much for being a fantastic guest on The Culture of Leadership today.

Colleen: Thank you so much for having me on.

Brendan: Absolute pleasure.

Do you know the principles of your own moral compass? Our moral compass is already within us, but we aren’t always aware of it. If it’s tuned correctly, the guiding principles will help us make the right decisions and behave decently.

These are my three key takeaways from my conversation with Colleen.

My first key takeaway: Confident leaders lead with a strong moral compass. Leaders who are confident in their moral values and principles are better equipped to make ethical decisions in the workplace. The four main points of a strong moral compass are truth, respect, responsibility, and compassion. Operating within these moral values can help leaders build better relationships and make the right decisions.

My second key takeaway: Confident leaders prioritize human-to-human connections. Leaders who value training team members with care and respect can create a great work environment by demonstrating common decency such as paying attention to others and fulfilling commitments. Leaders can build trust and strengthen relationships with their team.

My third key takeaway: Confident leaders foster open dialogue and trust. In a polarized world, it can be easy to fall into the trap of moral absolutes and judgment. Leaders who prioritize respect and responsibility, can create a culture of openness instead of judgment. By modeling truth and honesty, leaders can encourage their team to be open and honest, create a more positive and productive work environment.

In summary, my three key takeaways were: confident leaders lead with a strong moral compass, confident leaders prioritize human-to-human connection, and confident leaders foster open dialogue and trust.

What were your key takeaways? You can let me know at thecultureofleadership.com, on YouTube, or via our socials.

Thanks for joining me and remember, the best outcome is on the other side of a genuine conversation.