Villians and Heroes

Reflections on Workplace Perspective…..

A couple of weeks ago, I came across the most magnificent of quotes.  Referencing the tragedy of the current recession and the circumstances that had contributed to it, James West in his blog The Midas Letter, wrote:

“the commodity with the grimmest prospect of recovery is trust.”

Trust is a precious commodity.  Trust, truthfulness, honesty and integrity are the essence of the functional workplace.  In the absence of these values, the workplace begins to smell like a three day old fish.  In most workplaces, we begin to react on the mere suspicion of dishonesty; the case of our financial institutions goes wildly beyond speculation!  I think it is worthwhile examining this case to illustrate the impact that the loss of trust can have in the workplace.

The leaders of North America’s largest financial institutions have flagrantly created a financial disaster — of this there can be no doubt. This being the third and most serious systemic financial challenge over the past ten years, our financial leadership have shaken our societal self esteem; they have shattered the belief that our cornerstone institutions can survive.  I find myself wishing that this incredible deception is a mirage, just a bad dream.

joker1In addition to the emotional devastation, there has been significant job loss, business closures, house foreclosures, families broken.  And the damage is world wide.

The perpetrators, from their publicly subsidized high rise towers, have yet to admit responsibility.  There is no remorse and  no apology.  It is business and huge salaries as usual, while public administrators scramble to determine where the bail-out money has landed.  Like many in our society today, they choose to avoid the issue of wrongdoing; in the absence of an acknowledgment of impropriety, there can be no link to guilt and, hence, no consequence.

As I retell this story it seems more fiction than fact, something a team of scriptwriters would require years to invent.  The protagonist is clear; the villain has been unmasked. Yes, the bottom line is villain.

In contrast, there are those who build trust, hope and enthusiasm  —  encourage us to serve the good of humanity, leaders who can help us to be the best we can be.  These people are the heroes of this emotional age.  Here are a few examples:

Story#1: When we consider that 50% of the world’s wealth is controlled by 2% of the world’s inhabitants, and a mere 1% of the world’s wealth is controlled by the bottom 50%, leadership from those who control far more than their share of the world’s riches is desperately needed.

I am moved by the example of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet ; these folks are breaking new ground by giving the bulk of their wealth to philanthropic causes.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation targets worldwide health and education challenges; they have chosen to focus on neglected issues and strive for increasing opportunity and equity for those most in need.  The Gates and Warren Buffet are modeling extreme behaviour that hopefully will encourage others to follow.

superman1Story #2: I often share the importance of the lesson told in the story “Stone Soup”, one of my favourite stories of Portuguese origin.  There was a time when famine caused people to hoard very limited resources and retreat back into the protection of their families; however, a very wise traveler taught them the importance of community unity.  The villains in my story represent famine and create mistrust and fear.  The heroes represent plenty and generate love, compassion, unity, hope and ultimately, community building.

Why has Barrack Obama attracted such a strong following?   In my eyes, he is the traveler.  With a recipe of wisdom, compassion, partnership and hope, Obama is rebuilding not only the American community of trust, but he is seen by those around the world as offering hope to men and women whose trust is battered and bruised by the villains of the world.  He is soliciting partners to strengthen the “global village”.

Story #3: Sometimes all it takes to be a hero is a little creativity, a little compassion and an understanding that the brutal option of cutting a community off at the knees is just not acceptable.  Kevin Cullen in his blog at (March 12,2009 “A Head with A Heart” ) tells the story of Paul Levy, the administrator of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.  Before announcing staff cuts deemed necessary in the current economic slowdown and feeling particular empathy for how layoffs would affect the most vulnerable in his hospital family, Mr. Levy suggested that staff do whatever it takes to keep all employees on the job.  The response from staff of all levels in the organization was wildly supportive.  Employees offered to take less pay so that layoffs would not be necessary.  And I am sure there are many more heroes.

The individuals we typically consider heroes are the ones who land an airliner on a river or rescue a family from a burning home.  But these latter workplace and organizational nominees are equally worthy of consideration.  They have a positive and profound effect on our hope and the togetherness of our struggling workplaces and communities.

Am I on the right track? Who are your workplace heroes?  What defines the individuals you consider workplace heroes?  This coming Friday in “Craig’s Top Five List”, I will be identifying 5 ways that we can recognize a hero.  Please help me build this list.

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