How business leaders can create a fantastic work environment: “When we pause as humans, we begin” with Author Dov Seidman

One of the simplest and most powerful tools we have as individuals is the ability to pause. Think about it. When you press pause on a machine, it stops. When we pause as humans, we begin. Pausing creates a space where one can see clearly, differentiate amongst the competing stimuli of daily life, and make […]

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One of the simplest and most powerful tools we have as individuals is the ability to pause. Think about it. When you press pause on a machine, it stops. When we pause as humans, we begin. Pausing creates a space where one can see clearly, differentiate amongst the competing stimuli of daily life, and make determinations about how to best move forward.

As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dov Seidman, Founder and CEO of LRN Corporation and author of HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything. Now celebrating its twenty-fifth year, LRN is a technology and education company that provides ethics and compliance software and content to hundreds of organizations around the globe. LRN also advises companies on shaping values-based leadership, cultures, and governance as sources of competitive advantage. Dov’s book, HOW, is a New York Times bestseller that offers a philosophical framework for individual and organizational behavior in a world that is increasingly interdependent. In HOW, Dov argues the business of business is no longer just business, rather the business of business is now society. His proposals before the U.S. Sentencing Commission arguing that companies must move from a check-the-box, compliance-only approach to focus on fostering ethical cultures and behaviors were adopted, and are now the standards by which companies, cultures, and programs are judged. Dov holds master’s degrees in moral philosophy from UCLA and Oxford, as well as a law degree from Harvard. Dov is also the founder and chairman of The HOW Institute for Society, a nonprofit that seeks to build and nurture a culture of moral leadership and principled decision-making.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

If there ever was a seeming curse that turned out to be a blessing for me, it would be my struggles with dyslexia as a child. Even though I wrote a book a few years ago, I didn’t read a book cover to cover until I was 17. I was accepted to UCLA as a hardship case on the condition that I enroll in remedial English courses. Because I was accepted late, the only other classes open were in moral philosophy. Though all of this was challenging at the time, it turned out to be one of my life’s greatest blessings because it led to my intellectual passion for moral philosophy. By rewarding me for the careful consideration of one idea instead of compelling me to read hundreds of pages of text, philosophy helped me understand why I was struggling in all other academic areas. I studied philosophy for seven years before I went to law school, where I took eight classes in jurisprudence, which is essentially the philosophy of law. I pursued my philosophical studies because I was inspired by the subject. I also reached a conclusion that led me to found LRN, a company that helps businesses develop ethical corporate cultures: Philosophy is powerful enough to tackle sprawling issues. Today, LRN works hard to give business leaders the tools and education needed to assess and address challenges that have complex interdependencies, connect the dots among competing interests, understand what actions fit with core values, and inspire leadership for the long term of the organization, its people, and the world in which they operate.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

It’s not so much of a story as a reflection. Twenty-five years ago, I was running around talking about the need for elevated behavior, ethical capitalism, moral leadership, values-based corporate cultures. There were moments I was called naïve or idealistic, laughed at, and even kicked out of board rooms. This was, of course, before Enron, before Madoff, before #MeToo, before “An Inconvenient Truth,” before calls for inclusivity, before concerns about trust and fake news, and before concerns about the impacts of AI on humanity. Today, of course, these are the issues at the center of business and chief on the CEO agenda.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I find the name of your publication — Authority — very relevant to my work right now. Our systems can’t function without leaders with ‘formal’ authority, be they Commander-in-Chief, CEO or school principal. Yet what makes leaders occupying those formal positions, whether in business, politics, education or sport, truly successful in their roles is when they go beyond, and realize their moral authority. Formal authority can be won or seized, but moral authority has to be earned and sustained every day by how you act and how you lead. My life’s work is focused on helping to ensure more people with moral authority occupy positions of formal authority.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

I believe “happiness” is the wrong metric and our approach to achieving and measuring happiness is often flawed.

One of the most known and ancient paradoxes is the Paradox of Happiness. That if you pursue happiness directly it tends to allude you. But if you do things that are meaningful, are valuable to others, things that you’re really passionate about because you find inherent value in them, you create the space for happiness to find you. To understand happiness is to know you can’t pursue it directly.

Our metrics — what and how we measure — are a window into what we value and our values as a whole. An alternative to a how much measurement of happiness is how. How do we conduct ourselves in life and business? (Do we act fairly? Do we treat our colleagues, customers, and community with respect?) How do we sustain success so it lasts for decades, not just fiscal quarters? How can we all work together to build something greater than ourselves?

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

LRN’s own research, including LRN’s HOW Report based on comprehensive data collected from 16,000 employees in 17 countries, shows that employees who are inspired by a desire for significance — and encouraged to act as leaders regardless of role — will produce better business outcomes by all meaningful measures. And the same can be said for organizations that are trust-filled, values-based, and purpose-inspired. Likewise, LRN’s State of Moral Leadership report says, that while rare, moral leadership can be extremely effective. When managers lead with humility, they are 22 times more likely to be trusted by their colleagues, according to our analysis. When managers are able to make themselves small and create an atmosphere in which others can stand up and deliver a great performance, they are 11 times more likely to achieve their business goals. Going deeper, when managers demonstrate moral courage, by standing for truth or asking tough questions, they are judged 17 times more effective by their colleagues. And when they pause, and encourage their teams to pause and reconnect with their values, they are 11 times more effective.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

When I speak with CEOs, I often ask: What behaviors do you want more of in your companies? The answers: compassion, trust, collaboration, humility, understanding. Every top behavior CEOs are asking for is a uniquely human trait, not a mechanical skill. We need to set to work on the human operating system of companies to inspire more of these elevated behaviors.

There are essentially three elements that I believe comprise all the behaviors of an organization and make up what I call the human operating system within companies. The first is governance: the policies, controls, rules, organizational charts, goals, and objectives that represent the formal structures of the organization. The second is culture: the values, principles, habits, mind-sets, history, lore, and legends that influence how people behave. And third is the leadership model. How do you lead? Is it through command and control, or connect and collaborate? Are you transparent, or do you share information only on a “need to know” basis?

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

We’ve grown less interested in bad apples and much more interested in the trees that create them. Merriam-Webster’s 2014 “Word of the Year” — the most searched term on the dictionary’s website — was “culture.” Examining culture is deeply tied to the current moment. Why? In our era of ever-growing interconnection, we can peer deeply into an organization better than ever, learn about its past and present, discuss its behaviors, and even advocate for change.

Think about the way we react when something goes wrong within an organization today. People no longer tend to accept surface-level explanations. When a student is sexually assaulted on a college campus or an unarmed man is killed by police, people now talk about “campus culture” and “police culture.” We want to know about the larger context that’s informing individual thinking and the forces that animate individual behavior. We’ve come to understand that attitudes, actions, mindsets, and beliefs come from a deep place in our collective character.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

To me, and certainly to countless others, Elie Wiesel was a, if not the, moral conscience of our world. Professor Wiesel said that “words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the status of deeds.” His morally courageous and truthful words in so many moments of consequence — especially when in the face of hatred or persecution — transformed into deeds that made our world more just and human. It has been my profound privilege to be the exclusive partner of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics for more than a decade and to have partnered with Elie and Marion Wiesel to reach and recognize a generation of young ethical leaders. Through the prize, a generation has come of age asking deep, probing questions and viewing the world through a moral lens.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The corollary to the Paradox of Happiness I mentioned earlier is the Paradox of Success. What I mean by that, we too often pursue success directly as opposed to significance, and thereby are not creating the space for success to find us. I founded LRN 25 years ago to help people around the world do the right thing through what we call “inspiring principled performance.” We’ve recorded more than 100 million course completions on our education platform. Numbers tell only part of the story. What I’m most proud of is that our philosophy, ideas, points of view, education, and other tools on how to do the right thing have touched the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world, helping to make workplaces more ethical, more inclusive, more trust-filled, more inspired, more principled. That’s a legacy my colleagues and I are incredibly proud of.

What advice would you give to others who want to adopt some of these principles into their own life and work?

One of the simplest and most powerful tools we have as individuals is the ability to pause. Think about it. When you press pause on a machine, it stops. When we pause as humans, we begin. Pausing creates a space where one can see clearly, differentiate amongst the competing stimuli of daily life, and make determinations about how to best move forward.

I call it pausing in stride, and then moving through the four “Rs.” Reflect on the situation and the world we’re living in. Reconnect to your character; the aspiration, mission, and purpose. Rethink assumptions about what the next right thing is. And then reimagine a better path forward. Pausing is something we can uniquely do as humans, and it gives us the opportunity to do the next right thing, not just do the next thing right.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus so elegantly put it almost 2,500 years ago: “Character is fate.” It has always been true, of course, that it is hard, if not impossible, to outrun your character. In today’s see-through, always-on world, where business and personal lives are fused, it is even more true.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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