Monday, October 17, 2005

Principles or Personalities

There’s an old law school bromide that has been humorously adapted over the years:

"When lawyers don’t have the law behind them, they argue the facts; when they don’t have the facts behind them, they argue the law… but when folks don’t have the support of either, they usually attack personality, style or character, call names, pound the table and then change the subject."

So I guess it's kind of a compliment when someone begins to deflect attention from the issues to attack your style or personality. It’s embarrassing that many of us fall into this trap and get distracted in the drama and theater that ensue.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when personalities don’t mesh for a number of reasons. It’s nice when they do, but doing our jobs isn’t dependent on being chums or buddies.

There are three ways to make decisions: (1) go along to get along, don’t rock the boat, don’t make waves, (2) rigid policies (the approach that made the word bureaucrat a pejorative) or (3) principle-based.

Principles are, by most definitions, the ethical foundation, guiding light or closely held values and beliefs of and underlying foundation of an organization or society.

David Camner, Senior Partner at Performance Management, Inc., defines "policies, processes, plans, programs and so on as the mechanical means of achieving principles. When the mechanics fail, then principles rule. " Another example David often uses is that lawyers deal with the laws or policies and judges are meant to deal with the principles, e.g., interpret the Constitution.

But as former Mayor Nick Tennyson used to say, "There’s often only room for one person at a time to stand on principle."

To me, people and groups may have different principles, but if truly principle-based, they respect the roles and limitations and objectives of others. They work for the common good without pushing and shoving. They respect the law even when no one will ever know.

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