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Leading with Character: Resolve to Exercise Moderation

In my last blog, I offered some thoughts on starting the new year strong by practicing restraint. Following that theme, this week’s blog addresses exercising—not the physical kind—but the character-centered kind: exercising moderation. Restraint and moderation; two sides of the same coin. Those two powerful words are at the heart of the definition of temperance, and temperance could well be the elixir needed to help foster civility—in our society and also in our workplaces. Wouldn’t work and life be great if everyone practiced restraint and exercised moderation? Let’s think about how leaders can create more welcoming workplaces and become more effective by exercising moderation.

A Sense of Proportion
There was an insightful article in the “Review” section of the Wall Street Journal recently. “A Gentle Call for Moderation,” by Danny Heitman reflects on the book, Goodbye Mr. Chips by James Hilton. The setting is a British boarding school in the early 20th century. Mr. Chips is a teacher who instructs his students not just in the required subjects, but in the value of “a sense of proportion.” That phrase struck me. Thinking about our society, our workplaces—everywhere—we’re losing that sense of proportion. Respectful debate where people seek the truth by listening to understand is being replaced by arguments to impose one’s will and/or perspective. Often the loudest person, seldom representing the majority, comes out on top. But just because someone is loud and makes the most noise doesn’t make them right.

The Social Media Effect
In a world where social media amplifies content (for better and worse), and so-called influencers lead thought (fact-based or not), it’s easy to get caught up in the culture of jumping to conclusions and judging without examination. Therefore, we must be ever-more-mindful of exercising moderation in how we communicate—both in our personal lives and in the workplace. That’s not easy, because moderation isn’t always valued. I’ve seen those who are the loudest and least inclined to be moderate rewarded. On the other hand, I’ve seen those who act with moderation unnoticed and taken for granted.

Passion Threatens Moderation
For most of my career in the US Coast Guard, I was filled with passion for the mission and fully committed to my duties. That might sound commendable, but looking back, there were times when moderation would have been the better virtue. Like the time when I was assigned to a cutter performing law enforcement boardings of fishing vessels at sea. I was the senior boarding officer. The mission was to ensure the fishing vessels were complying with the laws and regulations governing the fishing industry to ensure viable fish stocks. A noble cause. But my passion for the mission led to imposing a frenetic boarding schedule. Assessing my decisions from a more mature perspective, I realize there are times when I should have passed on a boarding to reduce risk due to weather or crew fatigue.

Exercising moderation requires being intentional. Sometimes, it doesn’t come naturally. Leaders need to understand that, and be on the lookout to encourage moderation. Here are a few of the many ways a leader can become even better by encouraging and exercising moderation:

  • Recognize that the loudest, most persistent voice may not be the one to heed.
  • Draw out the quietest members of the group or team to solicit their thoughts; sometimes the quiet employees who exercise moderation are the ones who won’t compete to be heard, but who have the best ideas.
  • Gauge the make-up of the team and set a pace that will make each member feel comfortable.
  • Evaluate when it’s appropriate to let your authentic self rule, and when to reign it in to best manage the situation at hand.
  • When faced with a decision, give it careful consideration; is the issue black or white, or could you imagine a grey area that would open up a broader perspective?
  • Along those lines, try to shape discussions to ensure the center viewpoint is considered along with the extremes.
  • Be deliberate.

Look in the mirror: What else would you add to the list above to help you exercise moderation and create a culture that values moderation to become a leader people follow because they want to, not because they must?

Please join me again next week for more on Leading with Character.

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