It’s one thing to espouse a point of view but quite another to stay the course when the path is difficult. The courage of convictions is
not just a phrase. Those who’ve held firm when an easier alternative was offered know both the pain and the pride that comes with remaining true to their beliefs.
“To thine own self be true” is Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes, as he heads to Paris, Hamlet Act 1, scene 3. While Shakespeare’s meaning was manifold the phrase offers sound advice for today’s CEOs, managers and anyone in business: Do not stray from the sound principles that led to your success.
The hard road
But what if those principles begin to cost my business? Adapting to market pressures is not what this is about. Companies need to remain flexible to be viable. Having the courage of convictions centers around those core values that build to a mission statement: We value customer service, accuracy, honesty, quality. These are not values du jour that can be tossed aside as expediency suggests. These are the rock-bed of a company. Those who allow this foundation to erode have taken the first steps toward killing the company.
Maintaining those convictions, those core beliefs, is easy when the cash flow exceeds expectations. But when a CEO faces a downturn it’s tempting to let quality slide a bit, to let customers believe the back-order is the shipper’s fault or to cut corners – just a little bit. After all corporations have no soul. My bonus will be paid and no one will be the wiser.
The pornography of corner cutting
Anyone who’s been saved from the addiction of pornography will tell you how a just a bit of porn grows into an insatiable hunger in a shorter time than they could have thought possible. Addictions are like that and cutting corners in business is no exception. Padding expense reports or finding questionable ways to increase billable hours are as addictive as any drug. It’s sad that managers and top executives whose ethics are not challenged early on often find themselves front and center in a federal investigation.
Support from on high
Executives and managers who do not have the courage of their convictions might think they’ll be kept in line by directors or stockholders. But if the courage of your convictions is as ephemeral as the next economic downturn imagine how much less the braking power of those who are one step (or twenty steps) removed from day-to-day decisions. No, don’t count on others to keep you on the straight and narrow and don’t expect help with the feds call your name.
It’s up to you
Sorry for the cliché but at the end of the day it will be just you who will have been responsible for maintaining the company’s and your convictions. Sometimes companies die while exercising that courage but mostly they thrive. You may be celebrated, but you may be reviled. Accepting either fate knowing you’ve been unrelenting is called leadership.
Tim Sharp is the CEO of and Chief of Curriculum of Training Services on Demand (tsod.com). He’s also a lecturer at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.