I will never forget what happened to me in my first week of working. It was my first job working in a large, international institution with over 350,000 employees worldwide. I got this work opportunity following the completion of a computer engineering project at one of the departments in this company.
I spent the first two days of work there getting to know the projects and programs of the company. It was in that period when the regional branch manager asked me to attend a meeting with him. I feared this request. Not only was it my first meeting with that manager, but it was, in reality, my first meeting with any manager in my life. Given my recent status as a graduate student, I was prepared to answer any questions that might be asked of me and not miss the opportunity to appear as an ideal employee.
I met with him and the positive feature of his self-confidence filled the meeting room. The depth of his knowledge and expertise appeared evident during his talk. He told me, in all seriousness, about my responsibilities, the expected performance standards and the desired achievements. I assured him that I would be up to his expectations. Yet, his final words were what surprised me the most. He said, “You know that I am your boss and you are required to adhere to my instructions.” I nodded my head quickly in approval, with a trembling heart. Then, he added, “I want you to know that you have the right to differ in opinion from me.”
I was silent during his following talk: “Although we may disagree, and you may not be convinced by my opinion, I would like you to know that you have the right to file a complaint to the senior manager and that you will receive a response. If you do not like the senior manager’s response, you have the right to raise your complaint to the director of management and you will receive a response from him as well. I want you to know that you have the right at the end of the matter to raise your complaint, following the chain of command, all the way to the International Director General of the company and. And though his response may take some time, he will not neglect your complaint. I wanted you to know from the beginning of working with us that you get this right and that I support it. I think here we can finish our meeting.”
I left and went to my office. Days passed, we had many meetings, and I got to know more about the company’s systems and operation procedures. The many achievements that manager accomplished for our company brought him the respect of everyone. No one denied the impact of his technical skills and superior diligence. However, we all acknowledged that we were gathered under a competent commander, and that his first tools were the ethical values of leadership.
The years passed and I moved to other organizations and met with a number of officials and directors. Each organization had its own systems and ethical guidelines. In truth, I do not recall any of them now, and my memory does not retain the details of the thousands of meetings I had with managers, teams and staff. But I will never forget what was told to me by that confident and competent leader. He could have chosen not to address that subject at all, delayed the talk for months, or just referred me to the written documents regarding the matter.
I learned early on that a successful leader builds around him a team of knowledgeable and empowered individuals who are not terrified by artificial authority, and that diversity and difference of opinion, without fear of retaliation by officials, are the rights of all in an effective team.
In this era, there are necessary and important efforts to develop codes of conduct and behavior in institutions. We realize, however, that though individuals, including staff, students, MPs, doctors, team members or others, may read these codes, they will be affected, mostly, by the behavior of the leader of their institutions. The leader is the greatest influencer, and must therefore be highly responsible and accountable.
Basel Saliba: Senior Expert in Leadership Development, Capacity Building and Organizational Excellence.
*The Arabic of this op-ed article appeared on May 21, 2015. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of AmmanNet.
Translated by Julia Norris