“One of the most heroic examples of community spirit was 24-year-old Miki Endo, who used the loudspeaker system in Minamisanriku, [Japan] a fishing port close to the focus of the 9.0 earthquake, to urge residents to do what they could to escape the incoming tsunami. She drowned at her post. Television footage shows the rising sea approaching, with her haunting voice echoing over the waves. More than 1,000 of the town’s 18,000 residents died.”
This is a quote from a recent article in the Economist about leadership and response during and after the horrendous earthquake and Tsunami in Japan.
Thankfully, daily work life for most of us has little to do with putting our lives at risk. Hopefully none of us will be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice and demonstrate the incredible heroism of Miki Endo. However, I sometimes feel that people in companies are standing at their posts with loud speakers and warning of impending dangers. They call out repeatedly. Are we listening? How do they feel when we don’t? What are the consequences?
I recently observed this “drowning at your post” syndrome in a customer service situation. Customers were calling in and well-intended caring people at the front desk were doing everything to be helpful. But, the customer response system was broken and the plea for help from the first responders went nowhere. Customers felt abandoned and so did the people on the front lines. I believe if you “put your antenna up” and really listen, there is likely someone with a loudspeaker asking for help or announcing a coming storm around you at work right now. What are they saying? Do they feel that anybody is listening? Do they metaphorically feel like they’re drowning at their posts?
- Really listen and ask yourself, “Who around me (maybe it’s me) is sending out warning signals or calls for help? What are they really saying?”
- Ask yourself what you can do to help. Do not avoid it and assume it’s just someone “crying wolf” or say it’s “not my job” to respond.
- Do not let people “drown at their posts.” Often just acknowledging that you are listening, and starting a conversation, is enough to get the action wheels rolling.
- Remember that to keep the early warning system working well, we need to be responsive to each other at work. It is our workplace. It is our village.
- Do not wait for people at the top to get it and respond. They’re often too late, slow, or deaf.
Listening at you Post in the Triangle,
Picture this… I’m fortunate enough to be sitting in the Assembly Room Theatre in the lovely city of Bath, England. I’m there to listen to a stunning, rising star Russian violinist, Alina Ibragimova, play J. S. Bach’s beautiful sonatas. I do not know much about classical music, but I know when I see an artist in the ZONE. As she took the stage you could literally see her center her core, look up the ceiling as if to summon the angels, and launch into the performance. Her work hypnotized and captured an audience who applauded and stamped their feet as her bow ceremoniously left the violin for the last time. All of us, from novice to maestro, knew we had participated in a magical moment.
Most of us do not get to a literal “center stage.” But there is value in thinking about our work as successful artists and athletes do. You may think it overly zealous or even naïve to think this way. But what is the alternative, to go through the motions and just do a mediocre job? Or, to be the very best at whatever you do and find that allusive ZONE, where you know you’re in the groove?
- Give serious thought to what you want to be known for in your work.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Think of the next person or process who is impacted by you work, as your “audience.”
- Recognize when you are in the ZONE. What did you do to make it so?
- Never stop learning, practicing and getting better.
- Take a bow and accept the applause every once in a while.
In the Triangle… in the Zone,
Genshai is an ancient Hindi word that means
“you should NEVER treat yourself or another person in a manner that makes one feel small.”
I was introduced to this word by Kevin Hall in the first chapter of his book Aspire: Discovering Your Purpose Through The Power of Words. Genshai in its most complete application means unconditional brotherly/sisterly love. The key aspect of embracing this concept is to start with ourselves. Be honest. How many times each day do we scold ourselves and say self critical things that diminish ourselves? Do we metaphorically spray paint graffiti on our quiet, deep personal “wall”, the one that Facebook never sees? The answer for me is that while I have learned to do this much less than I used to, I still do it more often than I want to. Why is this important? Because the way I treat myself reflects the way I likely treat others. Essentially I see the world as I see myself. To fully apply Genshai, I must start with myself.
One of the pillars of the Character Triangle is Respect; this starts with self respect. So I challenge each of us to take steps to more consciously apply Genshai at work (and life). This means honestly accepting and working on our shortcomings but also not diminishing ourselves or anyone else. Being honest with ourselves can be done without feeling smaller.
Character Move: Kevin Hall wrote the following in his journal about Genshai: “I will write the secret word Genshai on a piece of paper and put it on the bathroom mirror. Each day I will look in the mirror with love, honor, and respect.”
- Take Kevin’s challenge and each day look in the mirror with love, honor and respect. Do it consciously and purposefully.
- Identify one person at work who reflects Genshai. Observe and thank that person.
Genshai is in the Character Triangle,
Do you CARE where you work? The oft published, prolific blogger, and organization pundit Seth Godin, pointed out in a recent blog, “no organization cares about you but people, on the other hand, are perfectly capable of caring. If you want to build a caring organization, fill it with caring people and then get out of their way. When your organization punishes people for caring, don’t be surprised when people stop caring.”
I’m the CEO of a mid size company. I definitely care about every single person that works here, our customers, and our partners. Even though I think my values and intentions are clear, I am disappointed to learn when we do something to squeeze the “CARE” out of people. Someone, usually for a well-intended reason, will put a policy in place that can knock the common sense stuffing out of normally caring people. “Getting it right” involves reinforcing the belief that increasing profit and performance does not have to include policies and processes that turn normally caring people into insensitive cogs. Check out the company Zappos if you want an example where excellent profit and caring coexist just fine.
Every day I can look around the company and get a daily reminder about the importance of caring people at work. Our receptionist in our U.K. office cared enough to start a dialogue with me and others regarding a customer-facing system that could be enhanced. She was right, we took immediate action, and improved our processes.
Character Move: CARE about where you work by CARING where you work.
- Take a personal “care” gut check. If you have policies andor processes that turn you or your team into non-caring robots, have the courage to create a constructive dialogue to fix this. Often just putting a spotlight on something that exists without challenge can put “care” back into the system.
- When confronting the situation, remember to attack the process (not others) and always start with what and how you can do about it first. Engaging in a tough conversation is one way of showing that you care.
Every organization is simply made up of people. If we can’t care at work, what a waste! This week put a spotlight on one process or policy that puts a drag on “CARE.”
By the way, thank you Rosie!
With CARE in the Triangle,