Leading with Character: Citizenship

April 17, 2016
Mike Stallard

Definition of Citizenship

Citizenship (social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork) is working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group; doing one’s share.

Citizenship in Today’s Organizations

The historian and bestselling author David McCullough observed that, “little of consequence is ever done alone.” McCullough recognizes history has repeatedly shown that groups are essential to progress and impact on the world. That’s why citizenship is so important. When people are good citizens (members) of teams or organizations, they give their best efforts and strive for excellence in their work, and often go “above and beyond the call of duty.” They also align their behavior with team/organizational objectives and values and they cooperate, encourage and help their colleagues.

The root word of “corporation” is “corpus,” which means “body” in Latin. Citizenship helps us put the corpus in corporation so that we reflect the true definition of a corporation, “a group of people combined into one body.”

Citizenship is built on the foundation of trust and loyalty. People are generally not good citizens unless they believe the organization they work for is loyal to them and trustworthy. In this day and age, when corporate downsizing is commonplace, trust, loyalty and citizenship have been severely diminished. Two Harvard psychiatrists, Drs. Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz, believe that so many people have been negatively affected by corporate downsizing and the resulting social pain they experience that many of them are withdrawing from relationships. It’s important for leaders to recognize the decline of trust, loyalty and citizenship in recent years so they have a realistic perspective. In this climate, leaders are even more important for they are key to strengthening trust, loyalty and citizenship.

Leaders who build trust, loyalty and citizenship genuinely care about people. That’s critical. Such leaders are capable of building trust for those around them will sense their care is not motivated by self-interest. A caring leader will take the time to get to know the people he or she leads – their stories, career aspirations, values and strengths. Armed with that understanding, the leader will look for ways to align each individual’s interests and goals with the organization’s so that the individual’s work is a “win-win” for the individual and the organization. They also expect leaders who report to them to follow their example.

Example of Citizenship in Action

In the book Fired Up or Burned Out, we shared the story of General George C. Marshall, arguably one of history’s greatest examples of a leader of exceptional character. It’s well worth reviewing Marshall’s example of the citizenship he displayed in serving his supervisor, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the trust and loyalty he developed with the people he led that encouraged them to be good citizens. You may recall that Marshall was the U.S. Army Chief of Staff during World War II then the Secretary of State who advanced the “Marshall Plan” to rebuild a war-ravaged Western Europe.

Let’s look at some specific behaviors of Marshall’s that reflect citizenship. Marshall was known for his loyalty. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt always knew Marshall would fully support him in implementing a decision, even if it was one with which Marshall disagreed. President Roosevelt said about him, “When I disapprove [of Marshall’s recommendations], I don’t have to look over my shoulder to see which way he is going… I know he is going…to give me the most loyal support as chief of staff that any president can wish.” Marshall once said, “the less you agree with the policies of your superiors, the more energy you must direct to their accomplishment.”

Marshall was also well known for giving his best efforts at work. Senator Henry Stimson said about Marshall’s planning and coordination of the war effort, “I have never seen a task of such magnitude performed by a man.” The British Chiefs of Staff wrote in a note to Marshall following the war, “…you have inspired us by your singleness of purpose and selfless devotion to our common cause.”

Marshall demonstrated his care for the people he led. He made sure they received training to improve their skills and continue learning and growing. During the Depression, Marshall made certain the people he led had proper medical and dental care. He also made inexpensive meals available to soldiers and their families. To avoid the perception that the meals program was a “condescending charity,” Marshall and his wife ate the same meals, too.

Result: Marshall’s leadership in organizing many of the logistics over the course of World War II and in advancing the Marshall Plan following the war were extremely successful. Following the Allied victory, Winston Churchill hailed General Marshall as “the true organizer of victory.” The Marshall Plan has been recognized as one of the most effective foreign policy programs in history. In recognition for the positive impact General Marshall had on the world, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963, the only career soldier to ever receive the honor.

Actions You Can Take to Develop Citizenship Among Your Team

Be a model citizen. Like General Marshall, be loyal to your supervisor and give your best efforts at work. When your supervisor asks for your input, respectfully share your point of view. If he or she makes a decision that you disagree with, be sure to make an extra effort in implementing the decision. In addition, be cooperative with people who work in other parts of your organization. The people you lead will see your example of good citizenship and be inspired by it to follow your lead.

Clarify your covenant. Take some time to think through and write out the covenantal promises you would like to make to your supervisor and to the people you lead. These promises define your relational expectations. Read through the Montpelier Command Philosophy for ideas and ways to express them in writing. Send a draft to two or three people you respect and ask them to provide feedback about “what’s right?, what’s wrong?, and what’s missing?” from your promises. After incorporating the feedback, send your promises to your supervisor for his/her approval. Once approved, share your promises with the people you lead, asking them to consider the covenantal promises you made then write their promises to you and to the people they are responsible for leading.

Celebrate good citizens. Look for examples of citizenship that you can share with your team. You can use examples from your team, from other parts of your organization or external examples that appear in the press.

More From Michael Lee Stallard

Leading with Character: Creativity

Leading with Character: Gratitude

Leading with Character: Integrity

Michael Lee Stallard, president and cofounder of Connection Culture Group, speaks, teaches and consults on leadership, organizational culture and employee engagement. He is the author of Connection Culture and Fired Up or Burned Out. Follow him on his blogTwitterFacebookGoogle+ or LinkedIn.

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