Leading with Dignity: an essential leadership soft-skill

11 Apr 2018 7:43 PM | Silvia Orna (Administrator)

Silvia Orna

When you think about leadership development, what are the competencies that come first to mind? If we use as reference the five levels in which the 28 leadership competences are commonly divided, we think of competencies related to managing self, managing projects, managing people, managing programs, and leading organizations. Depending on the industry, when selecting new leaders --or developing them, we focus on identifying a handful of specific competencies within these levels. Some professionals chose to identify areas of improvement to level them, and others focus on areas of strength to continue to develop those. While the purpose of this blog is not to argue which approach is better, it is to bring to your attention an often-overlooked competency which is critical at the present time.

Conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, and the practice of dignity


A critical skill for managing people is the ability to manage conflict: to encourage creative tension and differences of opinions; to anticipate and take steps to prevent counter-productive confrontations; to manage and resolve conflicts and disagreements in a constructive manner. However, managing conflict is not exercised in a vacuum. Although leaders are often called upon to adjudicate when members are in conflict, conflict management also involves having the ability to either avoid or resolve your own conflict situations. Furthermore, it is necessary to do so while understanding and leveraging diversity: diversity of thought, gender, gender identity, race, age, and experiences. Does this experience sounds familiar?


At this level the competency of emotional intelligence gains an additional layer of visibility. If emotional intelligence is our ability to communicate at the emotional level, to understand emotions and emotional situations, and be in tune with our own emotions; then we recognize that a leader does not just stand in the outside of a conflict as the traditional conflict resolution model suggested mediators to do. Much work has been developed in the last decade to recognize the emotional involvement of those mediating conflict, therefore emphasizing the need to develop self-managing competencies on any individual managing conflict. 


People are not divorced of their humanity in the workplace yet work structures and dynamics force individuals to conform to traditional norms and expectations to guarantee advancement, often insinuating avoidance to verbalizing emotions and experiences particularly if individuals are female, people of color, or a member of any minority group. These work practices have led to regular and often institutionalized dignity violations that are now being acknowledged, and fortunately, there are powerful movements gaining momentum demanding for a much-needed change.

But what is dignity and why do we need this additional perspective in the workplace?


Often confused with respect (respect is earned, dignity is a birthright), dignity is a construct that we all “feel” but we don’t often are able to verbalize. In over 20 years of mediation practice in some of the world’s most intractable conflicts: Israel-Palestine, Sri Lanka, Colombia, United States-Cuba, Northern Ireland, and others, Dr. Donna Hicks experienced first-hand “the power behind deep listening and observed the power effects of seeing, hearing, and acknowledging others for what they have suffered.” She learned that “a major source of anger, resentment, and bad feelings among people who had to work together could be traced back to incidents in which individuals felt that their dignity had been violated.”


Dr. Hicks developed a Dignity Model, that “put[s] a name to experiences that had made [people] upset, even ready to quit, but that they had not been able to adequately articulate their reasons for being upset. Once they understood the language of dignity, they felt relieved and validated.” Dr. Hicks’ experience in the experimental application of her Dignity Model illustrates that “[l]earning how to be in a relationship so that both people feel that they are seen, heard, understood, included, and given the benefit of the doubt can make weak relationships strong and a relationship that works reasonable well work even better.” Experiencing this success, Dr. Hicks decided to make her dignity model available to the business world, organizations, schools, and families – for anyone interested in improving the quality of their life and relationships. After collaborating with Dr. Hicks, I can attest to the transformational experience of her approach. Dr. Hicks’ Dignity Model is basic fundamental knowledge for anyone working in developing people and organizations.


The ODN of New York invites you to invest in your personal and professional development and meet Dr. Hicks to experience first-hand the power of her dignity model. We invite you to participate on this skill-building engagement, to connect at a human level, and to develop a new understanding and new language that will enable you to improve your professional and personal relationships; to create a dialogue around new strategies to implement at your workplace in support of dignity; and to develop skills to coach executives in becoming better leaders. The ODN of New York invites you to experience transformation and become a dignity partner.  


“We know the full value when we see our own dignity reflected in the eyes of others.”

Dr. Donna Hicks

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