"Silence is violence.” … “I wanted to succeed. And I developed anorexia and bulimia.” … “I look back on things that happened when I was 16 or 17 years old that make me cringe.” … “Women are seeing these images that literally are not real.”
I never expected The New York Times Thursday Styles section to jar me into a column. But looking at these quotes from fashion models who are opening up about the unsanctimonious netherworld of their superficially glamorized profession, I not only sympathized for the abuse and disparagement many endure, but I also found lessons with universal applications.
“Silence is violence.”
A senior-level consultant told me that while many execs give lip service to openness and fresh thinking, in reality many don’t deliver—and for a specific reason: “Many CEOs know their jobs are on the line if the business isn’t hitting budget. It’s easy to be positive and open-minded when times are good, but it’s another thing when times are tough. It’s only the best leaders that don’t get ruffled.
“My counsel to the leaders I talk to is: You always want to know what’s really happening on the ground, not just what you want to hear. Because the truth is going to come out sooner or later.”
“I wanted to succeed. And I developed anorexia and bulimia.”
We are an overmedicated society. Anxiety-driven illnesses are at historic highs and depression and addictions have reached epidemic levels. Two questions come to mind when I read this young woman’s quote: Are we creating an environment that fosters individual and group success, or do we see our employees as assets and automatons assigned not to think but to carry out tasks?
My second question hits on a different angle: Do we impose excessive pressure on others to achieve success? Regardless of the definition of success, all too often I see leaders praise team members in one breath and then in the next breath offer criticism. Praise deserves its own attention and should never be muddled.
“I look back on things that happened when I was 16 or 17 years old that make me cringe.”
Tabloids love to embarrass celebrities on decades-old faux pas. The truth is, we don’t have to hearken back to our adolescence to find our indiscretions.
But what do we do with that experience when it comes to our own self-improvement, and how do we treat others whose past mistakes we know?
Perhaps even more timely, what is your attitude toward mistakes of the present? Some companies actually encourage mistakes. “I’m not talking about 2+2=5,” one consultant told me.
“My best clients want their employees to take risks that are built on their confidence and passion. They don’t want their workers to tiptoe around progress. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking risks. And when honest mistakes are made, what lessons are you pulling from them? Every mistake has valuable learnings.
“If we don’t take those learnings, that’s the real mistake.”
“Women are seeing these images that literally are not real.”
A common cliche is “Perception is reality.” When it comes to consumer perceptions of our industry, I get it. We’re not going to debate customers on what they perceive.
But when it comes to our perceptions of our own colleagues and employees, we need to take a timeout and do a little fact-finding. How often are decisions made from the gut or, arguably worse, from an isolated incident?
Likewise, how often do we not see the flaws in ourselves, our stores, our culture? That is why this statement aligns so well with the first quote: “Silence is violence.”
To obtain a true picture of ourselves and our businesses, silence is not golden. It’s rust.
Mitch Morrison is vice president and director of Winsight’s Retail Executive Platform. Reach him at email@example.com.
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