Lawyers have moral responsibilities too

In the middle of last week, a story broke about a businessman who had made financial settlements using Settlement Agreements including NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) on a number of occasions following claims of sexual harassment and racial abuse.

Despite the undeniably serious nature of the original actions, in a world of global news reporting it may not have warranted front page news, except the businessman in question took an injunction out against the newspaper that had investigated the claims preventing it from publishing the details. And then in return, a Lord used parliamentary privilege to name the businessman.

I’ve followed the story, beginning to end and you know what? The whole thing stinks.

It stinks because instead of having the right debate, we’ve wrapped the story up in one of legal rights and wrongs. We’re discussing the integrity of the courts versus parliament, we’re discussing the integrity of NDAs, we’re discussing the integrity of legal precedent.

When we should be discussing the integrity of the people involved. The individual(s) that carried out the act in the first place. The leaders and HR professionals that sustained the culture in the organisation(s). And of course, the victims.

But also the lawyers that drafted the agreements, that defended the agreements and who have now lost sight of the individuals at the heart of the matter and are making intellectual arguments about legal supremacy, when if they and their peers done the right thing in the first place, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

Now I know that I’ll be faced with arguments that these agreements are entirely legal and proper, that it isn’t for lawyers to determine right or wrong but simply to enact what is legal and what is not. That the sanctity of the independence of the courts is paramount etc. I know, I’ve heard the arguments before. But I call b******t.

I’m sat here wracking my brains trying to think of a time in my 25 years of practice where I’ve been involved in a case where we’ve used a settlement agreement to settle a case of sexual harassment or racial abuse, and simply I can’t think of one. So to have multiple ones in the same organisation?

You can talk about the sanctity of the agreement and the “independent legal advice” that the individual has to take before they sign, but I want to talk about the moral responsibility of people propping up a rotten culture. I hold my profession to account, I hold leaders to account, but I also hold the legal profession to account. You can’t make clever arguments to claim immunity, you own this problem too.

So instead of continuing to engage in intellectual masturbation on the rights and wrongs of a member of the House of Lords naming the individual in question, let’s ask ourselves why they had to. Instead of debating the use of NDAs versus public interest, let’s ask ourselves why they’d ever be used in a case of this kind. And instead of pointing the finger at others, let’s start by asking ourselves a few searching questions.

Your happiness is your responsibility; it’s time to quit your job

Over my career I’ve been able to identify the single biggest cause of employee dissatisfaction. That’s been working across multiple sectors, in different roles and in different conditions.

It isn’t compensation
It isn’t development
It isn’t promotion

It’s something that is completely out of our control.

It’s regret. The regret of failing to act.

Life is full of events over which we have no control, life is full of changes which we cannot influence. We can sit idly by and bemoan the fact that things aren’t what they were, that life has dealt us the hand that we didn’t want or that people are doing things or behaving in a way in which we disapprove.

We can’t change any of these things. But we can always act.

Unsurprisingly, these two things are often confused. The response is, “but I can’t do anything to change [insert cause of issue]” and the answer is always, “so what can you do?”

Ultimately we are all responsible for our happiness, we are responsible for finding our own peace and for ensuring that we make the most of our life both in and outside of work.

And that means accepting responsibility that we can act and our failure to act, not the change, leads to our regret.

In a work context, that often means leaving a company where you’re unhappy. I’ve seen too many people become under performers, become organisational hostages, become “that guy” in the canteen that everyone tries to avoid, become the source of dissatisfaction of others, simply because they failed to act.

Or it means accepting that sometimes change happens, the past is exactly that and we need to move on. In either case, this is a choice, a conscious decision that each and everyone is able to exercise.

Life is too short to sit, being unhappy and blaming others.

“Il n’y a de réalité que dans l’action.”

The only reality is in action.

Bring your A game

You bring your A game when things aren’t going well.

When things are fine, you can glide, you can dwell, you can afford to take your foot off the pedal.

The difference between a high performer and an average performer, is that when things get tough, the high performer kicks in and delivers more. They use uncertainty as a base to drive forward.

Every single successful person I have ever worked with, embraced adversity, thrived on it and grew stronger.

Every single passenger I have worked with saw themselves as a victim, sat on their hands and blamed others.

To those that believe, “it isn’t worth it” you are right. It isn’t worth it.

To those that believe, “we can make it better” you are right. We can make it better.

Two truths, one choice.

Your call.

The price of greatness

Every day when you wake up, you have a choice.

You continue to have choices throughout the day.

Thankfully, most of us don’t live in totalitarian states, we don’t live in repressive regimes, we have the weight and responsibility of free will hanging over our shoulders. Every action, every interaction, is a conscious undertaking.

Being in HR does not absolve you of this responsibility. Yes, responsibility.

YOU. ARE. RESPONSIBLE.

If you don’t have the fight within you to make things different;

If you don’t believe that you can change the working lives of your colleagues for the better;

If you don’t have the guts and determination to lose but then stand up again;

If you yearn more for recognition than success;

If you search for deeper meaning in work yet offer no light to guide the way;

If your inactivity is driven by a desire for permission your proactivity hampered by your lack of courage;

If you seek value in acceptance and shun value in difference;

Then get out of the profession.

There are a million people out there who would gladly put themselves in your place. If you’re not up to it. Get out.

Every morning when you wake up, you have a choice.

Let’s not become self determined victims, scared of taking responsibility for our own destiny.

Nobody asked you to do this job, nobody asks you to stay in it. Will anyone miss you when you’re gone?

Those that have nothing to add, have nothing to add. And nothing will come of nothing.

So speak again.