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Leading with Dignity

At the recent International Ombuds Association (IOA) annual conference, we heard an excellent keynote address focused on dignity. Presented by Dr. Donna Hicks, from the Westford Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, she explained that there are three simple truths that guider her work around “dignity.”

  1. We all want to feel that we matter.
  2. When we don’t feel that way, we suffer.
  3. When we do feel that way, we flourish.

Thus, Hicks recent work is “Leading with Dignity: How to Create a Culture that Brings Out the Best in People.

Hicks presentation also helped us understand the difference between dignity and respect. Dignity is that sense of self worth that is inherent in all people. It is present at our birth. Respect is something that is earned by doing. 

Additionally, Hicks explained that with current neuroscience tools, it is now known that an assault on one’s dignity causes the same pain as a physical injury. MRI’s show these are on the same neural pathway. Hicks noted that while we can call for help or head to the doctor’s office when we get physically hurt, it’s more challenging to find help when our dignity is assaulted. While people can often suffer in silence, Hicks offered the idea of being a dignity ally for others. Consider checking in with people. Perhaps call out behaviors that “assault” dignity.

She also posed – what’s the dignity enterprise in your organization? How is dignity supported? Her experience shows that with support people and organizations excel and the people flourish. Leadership is key as it sets the tone.

Here are Hicks 10 Elements of Dignity:

  • Acceptance of Identity
  • Recognition
  • Acknowledgement
  • Inclusion
  • Safety
  • Fairness
  • Independence
  • Understanding
  • Benefit of the Doubt
  • Accountability

What’s the dignity enterprise in your organization? Do you need support? 

Not sure where to turn, Go Ombuds.