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One of these principles has to deal with leader decorum. If for no other reason, good manners on the part of a leader are important because of the power difference between leader and follower. Good manners on the part of a leader signals to followers that they are respected which is a first step toward earning their trust. Manners in Perspective What I am talking about is politeness: the largely ignored lubricant of a positive and productive relationship. As philosophers will tell you, it’s the purest and, at the same time, the most artificial of all virtues. It’s artificial in the sense that there is no difference between seeming to be polite and actually being polite. In a nutshell, good manners are the choice to show respect and protect the dignity of another person. This makes it hard for me to understand why anyone would choose bad manners over good manners; especially, when a positive relationship means a better result for all concerned. Nonetheless, bad manners are not only increasing, but increasingly accepted. I have wondered why this shift downwards in personal standards of decorum has bothered me and, more importantly, what difference it makes. After all, manners – bad or good – don’t really tell you much about a person. Nonetheless, manners may matter more than you might think. A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rude-ness – observed influential science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein. There is truth behind his observation: researchers find small acts of rudeness can quickly escalate to increasingly harmful events.2 Because I am committed to a prosperous United States of America and, not incidentally, to preserving its culture, I’m more than a bit sour on the prospect of the decline and potential demise of something that I love makes me think. I wonder if our loss of civility isn’t partly to blame for the bunker mentality on political and social issues and the “gotcha” attitude of public discourse. It stands to reason that if someone’s manners put you off, it will be that much more challenging to appreciate their position and, thereby, to actually solve a problem. Politeness: The Mother of Virtue Politeness is an important first step on the path to moral develop-ment. 3 Morality, at first, is only good manners and compliance with the rules of etiquette. Politeness (“One doesn’t do that.”) comes before morality (“One shouldn’t do that.”). Through practice, politeness becomes intentional, habitual behavior. Keep this chain in mind as I review my experience with the MBA students and their leaders (i.e., the professors). Although my public speaking chops had dulled from the lack of use, I accepted the speaking invitation with considerable enthusiasm and looked forward to interacting with students who were learning the foundations of principled behavior, including the principle of decorum. Because the class was an introductory one, it came as no surprise that the students were heavy on theory and light on practice. What did surprise me in a course intended to teach values, ethics, and morality to budding leaders, was the students hadn’t learned the first ingredient of principled leadership: the choice to be polite. (A legitimate explanation for this omission is that their professors do not share my theory of leader character and how it is developed.) Manners are taught by someone in a position of authority such as a parent or teacher who insists upon their practice rather than waiting for it to somehow magically appear. I can’t count the times that my parents explained their direction to my sister and me with: “Because I said so!” After all, we don’t come into the world principled about anything except wanting what we want; instead, we learn to be prin-cipled first through forced compliance (“Because I said so!”) and then through the intent to be better and exposure to better ways of being. At first we pretended to be polite (It was easier to say please and thank you than to suffer that “look” from my mother) and were acting as though we cared about another person. This is usually insisted upon by your parents or some other teacher. Because the students lacked sensitivity learned through experience of hearing impaired people and, therefore, awareness that they should to sit closer to the front of the classroom (doing otherwise leaves an uncomfortably large social space between speaker and audience), their teachers should have told them to do so. In a class meant to teach the value of virtue, it was up to the professors (teachers) to impose “Because” to set the stage and the standard for welcoming a guest by insisting the students to move forward. By not doing so the profes-sors missed an easy opportunity teaching-wise about the formation of a leader’s principles. Layer onto this missed opportunity that I set the students up for a show of politeness by telling them in a nice way (and, I thought, with some humor) that I am severely hearing impaired. (People with normal hearing typically do not understand that accommodating impaired hearing is rarely about turning up the volume; rather, it’s about clear and close diction that allows the hearing impaired person to “see” what is being said.) So, I had to deal with an uncomfortable social gulf as well as the distraction of having to scamper around the classroom in order to see what the students were saying. While I was well-prepared for the class, I had the impression that my talk was not as well received as I would have liked. Since the students were required to evaluate guest speakers, it would have been nice to have had my impression confirmed by a thumbs-down or, less likely, corrected by rave reviews. This, of course, was bad manners on the part of the professors rather than the students. I had asked to see the evaluations, but did not receive them. Finally, since I chose to give the talk gratis, a thank you note – or even a thank you email – from the professors would have been an act of good manners on their part. “You Like Me?” The question mark says all there is to say about the morality of good manners; that is, politeness is neither moral nor immoral, neither confirming nor disconfirming of another person. That’s also why my classroom experience is a useful example: The students showed up and I did my job the best that I could, no one had bad intentions and information was exchanged, and life goes on. In short, in the scheme of things – the students’ lives and my life – the class was of little consequence, except for being a perfect learning platform for an often overlooked virtue: being pleasant and easy to be with. The importance of politeness is the choice to be (possibly) better than we are. Its sole intent is to appear to have regard for the dignity of another person. And like any other state of character, it arises from practice to become habit and to reveal the purpose of being polite: To put people at ease and, therefore, make them more approachable, less defensive, and easier to deal with. Stand this outcome in contrast to the bullying and demeaning nature of bad manners. In this sense, good manners are a crucial first step to setting the table for better and more genuine things to come such as the practice of true values such as humanity and justice. Bad manners do nothing except to tap into that uniquely human vice we experience as meanness and its purpose of intimidating, disregarding, and harming others. Manners Matter Leadership Excellence Essentials presented by HR.com | 01.2016 Submit your Articles 29


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