Values: Rights versus Responsibilities

If you are a parent you’ll be very familiar with the phrase ‘I’m allowed’.  It’s a phrase can start as early as 3 years old and will absolutely go on well into the late teens and even early 20’s. Sadly in some cases, it’s an attitude that can go on for LIFE!!

I once heard a frazzled young Mum wrestling at the grocery store with shopping, a toddler in the trolley and a very determined 4 year old who clearly wanted something her Mum either didn’t want her to have or possibly couldn’t afford to buy. We all heard the ‘I’m allowed’ phrase loudly and clearly as the 4 yr old hurled herself on the ground. There were a few chuckles in the aisle when the Mum responded very calmly with ‘Yes you are allowed, and I’m allowed to call the police and report you for causing a public disturbance.’ The Mum calmly walked on. The little girl sat processing this response and clearly decided a visit by the police was probably not a good idea.  Mum 1 – 4 yr old 0.

Yes people do have ‘rights’, but we/they also have responsibilities.

David F Lloyd , in an article in Society and Culture noted that ‘The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, now 60 years old, was not the first attempt to legislate human rights on an international scale. The post–World War I League of Nations Covenant required members to “endeavour to secure and maintain fair and humane conditions of labour for men, women, and children,”’

He went on to say that ‘no matter how many ‘rights’ are declared, it never seems to be enough. Legally, rights have never been so extensively defined for so many: the rights of ethnic minorities, the rights of women, the rights of children, the rights of single parents, and the rights of homosexuals and lesbians. The right to claim compensation when your rights are violated. The rights of workers, of consumers and of the “unwaged.” The rights of companies and organizations. The rights of animals and the rights of plants. It’s a list seemingly without end.’

He asks some interesting questions:

  • Is the obsession with rights creating a better society?
  • Are we happier now? OR
  • Has society become increasingly self-centered and dangerous? AND
  • Is happiness for many, more elusive than ever?

I’ve worked with teams for over 30 years, and individual ‘rights’ are very much to the fore when I first start my work. My aim when working with a team is to have the team leader or manager delegate as much as possible to the team, so they can be doing more of the working ON the business and the manager can do a whole lot less of working IN the business.

Managers need to be future paced not day to day orientated. They need to be thinking ahead to next project; next product or service; next sale; next customer; next market.

In order to free managers from day to day issues and crises, we require our teams to be willing to pick up an awful lot of the day to day tasks and processes that prevent managers from being able to concentrate on those future issues.

The first question I’m invariably asked is ‘Do I get more money for doing this?’ To which I reply ‘No’. Employees (not all of them) believe that if they do more they should be paid more. Yet the ‘responsibility’ of every employee is to come to work each day to do whatever they do better, more efficiently than they did it yesterday. It is also their responsibility to be willing to learn and grow so that a. they are ‘worth more or b. if the worst thing happens and the company folds, they are more skilled when they leave than when they joined.

What about the rights and responsibilities of managers? Yes their staff need to be willing to grow and learn and multi skill, and often there isn’t money in the kitty to pay them to do that when this process first starts. HOWEVER, the ‘responsibilities’ of organisations that become successful because they have a willing workforce IS TO REWARD THEM as soon as they can afford to. I see massive efficiencies as a result of this shift in working, and I then see the managers being rewarded handsomely while employees wages are kept the same and have been kept stagnant for years. This is NOT OK.

My message to employees – your rights are to have a safe work environment, and that means not just physical safety but mental safety also. Your responsibilities are to:

  • Learn as much as you can every single day
  • Think like an owner. To ask yourself ‘If this was my dollar I was about to spend what would I do?’
  • Think above pay: think about YOUR future. Learn and grow on the job so you are either worth more when you leave pay-wise, OR you may decide to become an owner yourself because you now really understand business.

My ‘responsibility’ message to managers and owners is this:

  • Look after your people and they will look after you
  • Create a reward scheme that covers ALL your staff not just management
  • People don’t leave organisations they leave poor managers or organisations that treat them like cattle

My ‘responsibility’ message to organisations is this:

  • Yes a business is in business to make money, that is their ‘right’ but making money should not come at the cost of people or community or planet.
  • As the world population grows and as more and more resources are being used to feed us and clothe us, businesses have a responsibility to conduct their business in ways that reflect this challenge – as the saying goes ‘there is no planet B’.
  • Look at the road ahead. Be aware that businesses have ‘responsibilities’ above the dollar and even above return on shareholders investment.

We are living in a pretty confusing world right now; so much happening on so many fronts. There also appears to be a lack of clear leadership from the institutions we look to for guidance. When people are confused, fear and scarcity thinking can rise to the surface, demands for individual ’rights’ to be honoured can override common sense and personal responsibilities. WE have to become the leaders we wish to see. And so I just have to leave the last word to the Dali Lama:

‘Today more than ever before, life must be characterised by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human but also to other forms of life.’

Ann Andrews CSP. Author, speaker, profiler, Life member NSANZ

Author:  Leaders Behaving Badly: What happens when ordinary people show up, stand up and speak up

Author: Lessons in leadership: 50 ways to avoid falling into the ‘Trump’ trap

PS: For Aucklanders the hard copy version of ‘Leaders Behaving Badly’ can be purchased from Poppies Bookstore in Howick

Further reading

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Check out the world’s top 5 most ethical companies

Check out the 10 least ethical companies

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