The Standard you Walk Past is the Standard you Accept

by Jean Tower

standards

A few years ago, the Australian army weathered a scandal involving degrading and humiliating women in the army. The Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, was unwaveringly committed to creating an inclusive and equitable environment where every member was respected and honored. (You can see his 3 minute speech about this here.)

In articulating his commitment to improving the culture and reputation of the army, he said:

“The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

I found that statement very impactful. It has long been one of my beliefs, not just professionally (at work), but in parenting, social situations, and life in general. I bet my son still remembers a story from when he was in first grade. He told me the kids were all teasing a certain boy at recess, “but I wasn’t, Mummy.” And I asked what he did to help the boy. Did he stand next to him? Did he help the boy walk away with dignity? Was it bad enough to get an adult involved, and if so, did he? Basically, I was telling him that not joining in on the teasing was just the bare minimum and did not meet my expectations. I let him know that if he was willing to stand by and watch without helping, then that was simply not good enough.

Years ago, I worked with a middle school principal whom I greatly admired. One of the qualities that I observed and have tried to embody is that as he walked around his school, and as he spoke to teachers, parents, and students, he took on what needed to be taken on. He did not allow mediocrity to flourish, he addressed poor behavior, and he dealt with small issues that I had seen others walk past. How he managed to do this in a way that left people respecting and admiring him is another post altogether, but he somehow did! (Thank you for that lesson, Richard.)

A year ago when I first saw the Morrison speech, I added it to my “to blog” list, and still had not yet written about it when I read, Never Walk Past a Mistake, in CIO Insight, today. It deals with the same idea that if you walk past it without dealing with it, you are condoning it. This article quotes Colin Powell as saying that one of the purposes of never walking past a mistake is that, “It teaches aspiring leaders to have the moral courage to speak out when standards are not being met.” It’s true – it takes moral courage and energy to do this, but it is worth it, both at work and in everyday life.

Addendum:

After posting this, I noticed this post at Dangerously Irrelevant – “What we permit, we promote.” Same sentiment, really.

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