The other day, I heard something that challenged me, and my initial reaction was to ignore it. You know what they say about choosing battles. Then someone shared this phrase in a meeting later that day completely unrelated to what I had observed earlier: “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”
The quote is attributed to Lieutenant General David Lindsay Morrison, a senior officer in the Australian Army, and has been shared by many other leaders over the years, including General Schwarzkopf 25 years ago in a speech to the Army Academy. This concept resonated with me so strongly that I knew it would be at the center of my letter this week.
It is not good enough to tell people how to lead. Leaders have a responsibility to model the way. It is also the responsibility of the leader to stand up and say, “This is not acceptable,” when we see something that is not aligned with our company or personal values—regardless of what can often be or at the very least seem like a personal cost. That’s the job. When we ignore unacceptable behavior or use the excuse, “That’s just the way it is,” we are actually condoning the behavior. We’re communicating to everyone around us—not just our teams but also our customers—that this behavior is acceptable.
As people-centric leaders, is that truly the message we want to send? The opening keynote speaker at our AME Back to Basics Summit, Deondra Wardelle, shared this week that being people-centered forms our mindset and ability to develop trust. This requires empathy, vulnerability and humility—something leaders are frequently challenged to be.
AME is an organization centered around people-centric leadership. Our community creates a cultural environment in which people can realize their gifts, develop and apply their talents, and feel a genuine sense of fulfillment for their contributions in pursuit of a common purpose. Can we do this if we walk past or ignore things we should not, hoping they will just go away?
This quote from Maya Angelou is one of my favorites: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Angelou reminds us of the enormous impact of our words and actions, or lack of either, on others.
It is everyone’s responsibility to stand up when the time comes—not just CEOs and not just in business. When we accept less-than-stellar treatment or performance, we accept that this is fine and pave the way forward for it to happen again. That message will trickle throughout the organization. If we want to improve the culture or of a business or its reputation, we need to look to be better; we need to change the standards we accept.
As always, please stay safe and keep looking out for one another.