My favourite place
We talk about the moral high ground a lot, don’t we? Especially in our industry of big egos and zero-sum arguments and confrontations.
It’s a good thing to have in an argument, the moral high ground. A good thing to argue from. It gives your position oompf. It helps your point strike true. It is the other side of ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’. You can’t occupy the moral high ground unless you’ve done your bit and have been seen to be doing it as well.
And frankly that is as it should be. No issue with that.
The thing that bugs me is that, often, the moral high ground comes with a side order of smugness. A ‘ha ha I got you this time’ undertone. Because every other time, the moral high ground cannot be claimed by whoever is now doing a victory dance. Because every other time, the person currently on the top of the Righteousness Hill doesn’t do the right things themselves so, much as they may want to point a finger at you (and they may try), it may backfire.
The moral high ground often comes with a sense of temporary reprieve.
I can’t be having with that kind of thing.
I am here to defend the moral high ground.
It is my favourite place.
Not because I like being right. It’s not at all pleasant to be the Cassandra of the family, contrary to how much you thought your mother enjoyed telling you ‘I told you so’. She would much rather you hadn’t made the mistake she could see coming a mile away and spared yourself the pain. Her and me both.
I want to defend the moral high ground because it is my favourite place and it is misused and abused. People rush to the top of the hill, plant their flag, loose an arrow and tumble back down to where they came from and I am here to say: no.
You want the moral high ground, buddy? Then you need to make it your place of residence, not your occasional palisade or arrow slit. All the time or not at all.
It’s not ‘doing the right thing’ if you only do it occasionally
Ask my friends and they will tell you I have a thing for consistency and integrity.
Own your s**t.
Have values and hold them fast.
Be accountable, be transparent, be consistent. It’s foundational and fundamental for me. It’s both what I need in order to extend trust and what I require in order to function at maximum capacity. It’s the admission ticket if you want maximum Leda by your side, in your organisation and cause.
And before you say ‘ah, you know everyone slips up every now and again’: no. That’s the whole point. Everyone fucks up every now and again, of course, we do. But going oops and owning the error or oversight and doing something about it both outwards (to mitigate the impact your action or inaction may have had on the world and others) and inwards (to reflect on blind spots and assumptions and learn from whatever this was), that is what I am talking about.
Not infallibility. Accountability.
With the big things and the bad. The momentous ones and the unimportant ones.
And I find it is binary.
People don’t have integrity in some situations but not others. People don’t have accountability in some contexts but not others. It doesn’t depend. Circumstances and context matter in most things but not in this. You either do or you don’t. Yoda says there is no try when it comes to integrity.
This is important to me. I am not saying it needs to be important to you, although I think it.
I do. And we both know I think it, so there.
We won’t be friends if this is not important to you. And I am sure you can live without my friendship and I without yours.
I am at peace with the fact that I demand integrity and personal accountability from my team, my partner, my clients, my friends, my boss.
For the avoidance of doubt: I don’t ask politely.
I demand and expect it.
And if you have joined the right company and hire well and choose your friends wisely and all that jazz, it isn’t contentious. It isn’t even a conversation. It’s a thing that happens without fanfare: it’s the natural order of things. Of course we expect this of each other, duh.
Now for this natural order of things to hold water, there is something you need to do. And that is have consistency and accountability yourself. Integrity. Ownership.
To be able to lay down the law, slam the breaks, demand better of those around you, you need to hold yourself to the same standard. Hence glass houses and moral high grounds. Essentially, you don’t get to expect these things of others unless you occupy what we often think of as the moral high ground yourself. Permanently. Not smugly. Not with a little victory jig. Just, you know, always.
That’s not a negotiable thing.
You need to always have the intention to do the right thing.
Sometimes you will fall short. Oftentimes you will fall short. And when that happens, like it will, you need to be honest with yourself and others (that’s what owning your s**t means). You need to say that’s on me and I am sorry. That’s on me and I have no idea what went wrong so I may need help recognising blind spots, realising what I missed. Or you need to say that’s on me and I know what went wrong and I have some learning and thinking to do around how I can, in future, learn from this blind spot or error of judgment. You also need to make it right immediately. That doesn’t mean instantly, it just means start now and take however long it takes. Some things are not quick.
You need to hold yourself to account and maintain high standards. That’s the message.
You need to live by your values. Every day. You need to treat others like you wish to be treated.
Every time. And no matter who they are. And no matter how bad a day you are having.
We have talked before about how your culture is defined by what you tolerate and how the things you may do sometimes are as important as the things you do always. If not more important because they show the corners you are willing to cut.
I have told you before how my wonderful grandad said that you can allow yourself to be the sum total of your actions or you can choose the person you are and always act like that person would. No ifs. No buts. No extenuating circumstances.
I like that.
If you live like this you will never ever find yourself saying ‘I am a good person, but…’
You will find yourself acting on the basis of ‘I am a good person, therefore…’
And that’s the thing.
If you do that, you get to claim the moral high ground.
That’s what makes it my favourite place: it is inhabited by people of integrity. Sure we get the odd visitor. Tourists who climb up in pursuit of one-upmanship with no interest in the reliable consistency, integrity and unfailing accountability that I hold so dear.
Those visitors are imposters and they won’t be here for long.
You pay for your right to tell others something isn’t good enough. Not by ensuring your own homework is flawless but by ensuring your process is. By ensuring the standard is the same and consistently pursued.
That’s it. That’s all. That’s the ticket to the ball.
So. If you are trying to make an argument premised on you occupying my favourite place, the moral high ground, I will ask you one simple question: do you live here?
Because if not, your argument is circumstantial and your luck will fail.
If you live here, my question is different: do they live here?
The people you are having the argument with? I am guessing not.
And if they don’t, the currency you are dealing in will fail you.
Because the value you ascribe to this place – the moral high ground to them, the place of consistency and accountability for us – is seen as righteous indignation from the outside-in. They don’t know why this place is important other than raised ground for better aim in pursuit of point-scoring.
They don’t see that you are not worried about now in the argument you are having with them. You are worried about every other time before now, when we may have missed this very thing happening and every other time in our future this failing we are looking at as circumstantial will be a problem. Because you can see that the behaviours that led to this instance go beyond the instance itself to people who eschew accountability and hope to get away with things and often do. So nobody learns a damned thing.
You are worried about all the things that cut between moments and build patterns running through actions and they play a recognisable tune of mistakes repeated, corners cut. And accountability doesn’t solve for the mistake. It just helps with the learning. It shields your future self. And the integrity to not hide the mistake that didn’t get caught, also.
So in their absence we get patterns of avoidable errors. Unique in their manifestations but not their root.
That’s what you are talking about. But that’s not what the people you are talking with are talking about. They are talking about this. Now. And they’re willing to argue everything else is circumstantial and relative and a problem for another day.
So if you are a visitor here, go on your way. This is no place for tourists.
But if this is your favourite place too, you know you don’t need to answer my question. You need to answer your own: how do you get yourself to a working balance where the moral high ground is not the place we shoot arrows from but the place we strike camp?
Because we don’t do a dance when we do the right thing. We don’t celebrate not robbing a bank. We just go on to do the next right thing to the best of our current knowledge and ability and strive to make both a little better each day.
If this is your favourite place, stay, and pick your people.
You will know them when they reach Mount Moral High Ground. Upon cresting the summit, some folks get their tents out, others their crossbows.
You have a choice then. Make it.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!