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So What? It’s important to remember that there are no natural virtues: We are born with none, can learn them all, and change whichever ones we want to change. All virtue is learned through education and experience and perfected through intentional practice. Politeness is a pain-free practice of being virtuous. We act as though we cared until we actually do care, fake just acts until we are just, and so forth. In this sense, being principled is an act of discipline before it is an act of habit. Of all of the virtues, politeness may be the easiest one to learn and set the pattern for learning others. Which brings me full turn to my fixa-tion on leadership and answering one of the questions posed by the leadership class: What inclines us to follow some people and not others? I am convinced that good manners are part of influence; if only a small part. Leaders show they care about the dignity of their potential followers which contributes to the approachability of the leader and the sense on the part of followers that the leader just might care about them. While followers have many needs, one that seems common to all of them is the need to feel as though they belong and have sig-nificance. The belief that we matter is a powerful motivator for what leaders crave in their followers: teamwork, productivity, and loyalty. These gifts from follower to leader often come free of charge with the simple act of good manners. For those of us with less than thick skin (i.e., most of us), bad manners can obliterate these feelings, and in doing so destroy or seriously limit a leader’s ability to attract and retain followers. This is a particularly damaging outcome as the best followers are always volunteers in the success of their leader and can rarely be compelled to be enthusiastic, perform at a high level, or stay. Lie Until It is True In view of the above discussion, one of the first lessons the wannabe leader needs to learn is the lesson of constructed respect. This is the skill of convincing people that you care about their comfort and well-being, regardless of whether you actually do. Even a faked smile is still a smile if it is well faked and, in my experience, good leaders are good actors. They can feign interest in the comments of someone even when a root canal would be a preferred way of spending their time, show interest when they have none, and generally put people at ease when what they really want to do is to pound them on the head. Before you go ballistic on me about the “authenticity” thing, there is no faking when it comes to good manners: you are well mannered or you are not and, in the nature of this virtue, it does not matter whether you have to fake it. What matters from a leadership perspective is that good manners pave the way for what every leader needs to be able to do: connect with his or her followers. Advice on the need for and skills of connecting with and engaging employees, customers, and other stakeholders has become a profitable industry, supplemented by countless “how to” and “why it’s impor-tant” speeches, workshops, articles, and books. What they exploit is an insight as old as the first tribal culture: without a meaningful connection there is no trust and without trust there is no enthusiasm or sense that one belongs and has significance. While I’m not up to speed on all the available advice on how to connect, none of the ones I am familiar with say: “Step One: Engage the person by showing interest and practicing good manners.” This sensible advice seems to be largely ignored even though the intent to be polite precedes all acts of good manners. A simple explanation for this lack of attention to Step One is that leaders often fail to recognize the necessity of “wooing” one’s stakeholders or anyone else they want to connect with and influence (the core verb of leadership). So, back to my classroom experience of indifference to my impair-ment and the apparent failure to appreciate my donation of something that cannot be replaced – my time: What I experienced is not the result of intentional impoliteness. Rather, it is the result of the failure to intentionally be polite and to ask oneself just what that might look like. Perhaps business leaders are shooting too high; it could be that they need to abandon the tactics of connecting (e.g., “learn five new names per day’) and rethink their commitment to meaningless things such as exceeding customer expectations (most enterprises, but not all, have no way of knowing what individual customer’s expect). They could emphasize the skills of politeness to be learned in the event that an employee did not learn them at home. That is exactly what the United States Air Force Academy and some universities (e.g., UCLA) are doing in order to teach their emerging leaders how to pave the way to potentially connecting with whomever it is that they may want to influence. If they want a deeper dive, they could teach the process of virtue (principles in the lingo of the class) as-similation. My sense is that in raising our children and developing our leaders, we have emphasized “how” at the expense of “why.” It is as the German philosopher Schopenhauer reminds us: “. . . a wise thing to be polite; consequently, it is a stupid thing to be rude. To make enemies by unnecessary and willful incivility is just as insane a proceeding as to set your house on fire . . . politeness is like a counter – an avowedly false coin, with which it is foolish to be stingy.” LE Notes 1.Insidious Workplace Behavior. J. Greenberg, Ed., Taylor and Francis Group, 2010. 2.Andersson, L.M., & Pearson, C.M. Tit for tat? The spiraling effect of incivility in the workplace. Academy of Management Review, 24,3,452-471. 3.Comte-Sponville, A. A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Use of Philosophy in Everyday Life. A Metropolitan/Owl Book, 2002. Manners Matter Tom DeCotiis, PhD co-founded Corvirtus in 1985 to provide a range of innovative, science-based measurements and services that tie a company’s culture and core values to talent processes. Throughout his 40-year career, Tom has worked with organizations - from start-ups to Fortune 500s - to help them grow and succeed through a rigorous focus on company mission, values, business basics and stakeholder promises. Visit www.corvirtus.com Connect Tom DeCotiis Would like to Comment? Please Click Here. “Of all of the virtues, politeness may be the easiest one to learn and set the pattern for learning others. Which brings me full turn to my fixation on leadership and an-swering one of the questions posed by the leadership class: What inclines us to follow some people and not others?. ” 380 Submit your Articles Leadership Excellence Essentials presented by HR.com | 01.2016


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