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I see it everywhere; in business, in the news, and on the street. People make a decision and hold to it, almost stubbornly. When asked why they made that decision, or did something, they reply in a matter-of-fact way that they acted or decided based on their principles. This statement is made sometimes almost as a challenge.
Don't question or judge me; I decided on principle.I believe in principles. I also believe there are potential dangers in the situation I just described. These dangers include: maintaining the status quo, creating unneeded confrontation, thwarting learning for ourselves and others and reducing our overall effectiveness. Because of these risks, I believe in principled flexibility.
Sound like an oxymoron?
Does it mean you should be flexible in your principles? Not at all. Does it mean flexibility is more important than principles? Not necessarily.
Most would agree that principles - your core beliefs and values - are important. To be most clear and effective, you must understand your core values, beliefs and principles, and then use that clarity to help guide your behavior and decision making.
When you are in clear alignment between principles and behavior, your life will be easier, you will be clearer, and you will experience less stress. In other words, when you are steadfast on principles, you will be more successful.
And yet, being steadfast in your principles can get in your way - not because of the principles themselves, but because you can make an honest mental mistake precisely because you want to hold firm to your principles.
The mental trap is mistaking approaches for principles.
Let me give you an example. . .
John feels strongly about Customer Service. When budgets are announced after the merger, he reacts strongly because the huge reduction in staff in his mind means that Customer Service is no longer a priority for the company. His disappointment becomes cynicism and anger. These emotions impact his job performance and reputation, but he feels justified because the decisions made aren't in alignment with his principle of Customer Service.
That may be true, but maybe not.
John believes budget and bodies are the only ways (approach) to deliver great Customer Service (principle). While most would agree people and money help, there also are plenty of organizations that added staff and resources and didn't provide any better Customer Service than they did before.
This is just one example of the mental dilemma. In these situations, in the name of principles, we feel justified in our reactions and responses. Paradoxically, adopting this rigid mindset can sacrifice opportunities for real progress on principles!
Here are some solutions - some ways you can apply principled flexibility and help yourself ultimately make more principle-driven decisions and live a more principled life.
Focus on the goal
Have an open mind
Let go of your preferred answer
Apply the principles later in the process
Help others do the same
This conversation may seem like a slippery slope - being too flexible can lead to compromising principles and beliefs. This concern should be your balancing factor and warning sign, not a red light.
Being worried about compromising your values may keep you from being open to options - options that when examined closely may still be in alignment with your principles and possibly create better results.
©2008, The Kevin Eikenberry Group. All Rights Reserved
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