The Human Something That Makes All The Difference In Human Relationships
“I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than a small piece of bread which moved me to tears at the time. It was the “human” something which this man gave me – the word and the look which accompanied the gift.”
—Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Here is a man existing in a concentration camp. He is aware that he is being worked towards death. He finds himself starving – day after day. Yet, when he receives a small piece of bread what moves him is not the bread itself. What moves him, what leaves him grateful, is that “human” something which is brought forth and given life in the ‘word and the look’ which accompanies the gift of bread. The human something which transforms Viktor Frankl’s being from that of a thing to that of a human being.
Have we created a space for this human something to show up and dwell in the world of business?
You may be tempted to think so given all the talk of relationship, of service, of engagement, of collaboration, of partnering, of loyalty. And I am confident that many in the business world actually believe so. Yet, Look beyond this veil and you are likely to see a desert of genuine-meaningful-cooperative relating: within the organisation, and between the organisation and its customers, suppliers and partners. Behind the veil of words lies a transactional context where just about everybody finds that the most functional behaviour is to look after oneself. Where does the problem lie? Who is responsible for not putting this human something into the game of business?
Let’s listen to what Susan Scott says on the matter (bolding mine):
“The problem isn’t out there. It’s in here. We want employees to be engaged and feel included, while we ourselves are detached, distracted, disengaged, focused on our to-do-lists. We want others to bring that elusive, coveted “discretionary effort” in the door with them every day, but we don’t have the time to engage in conversations that enrich our relationships with them. We are busy, not to be found. And even when we are willing to spend more time with people, we don’t want to get to close to them. After all, there’s professional distance to maintain. Conversations and meetings that create actual intimacy make us nervous and uncomfortable. Besides, intimacy requires too much upkeep on an emotional level, and conversations and meetings that really engage and include take too much time…. When you disengage from the world, fail to include it, the world disengages too, in equal measure. It’s a two-step process, you and the world, you and your organisation. Your colleagues, associates, employees lost interest in you because you’ve lost interest in them. Calling them associates isn’t enough. If you want to engage and include the people who surround you at work, then gain the capacity to connect with them at a deep level – or lower your aim.”
– Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership
What Can We Learn From the Events That Occurred At Market Basket?
It occurs to me that when it comes to the human something and the exercise of human-centred leadership (which embodies that human something) we can learn something from the events that have occurred at Market Basket. What happened? According to the Boston Globe (27th August article):
“For six weeks, we were mesmerized by the sight of thousands of grocery clerks, cashiers, and other workers protesting at stores, on Facebook, and on the front pages of this paper. They did so at great risk, without the protection of a union, not because they wanted higher wages, but merely the return of their beloved boss, Arthur T. Demoulas.”
The CEO of Tesco was ousted in July 2014 due to poor performance. Not a single employee turned up at company headquarters to demand his return to the CEO role. So why is it that thousands of employees did turn up at headquarters and demand Arthur T’s return? What makes him beloved – so highly loved? I share with you some quotes that I have come across on the net, from the likes of the Boston Globe and the LA Times (bolding mine):
“He’s a tremendous human being that puts people above profits. He can walk through a store, and if he’s met you once, he knows your name, he knows your wife, your husband, your kids, where they are going to school.”
– Tom Trainor, District Supervisor
“He’ll walk into a warehouse and will stop and talk to everyone because he’s genuinely concerned about them. He cares about families, he asks about your career goals, he will walk up to part-timers and ask about them about themselves. To him, that cashier and that bagger are just as important as the supervisors and the store management team.”
– Joe Schmidt, Store Operation Supervisor
“Artie is a people person, who places people before profits; he cares about you as an individual. There’s good pay, good working conditions, good benefits. That’s why people people don’t leave.”
– Joe Garon, Buyer
Leading From Any Chair: Acknowledging The Acknowledged Leaders
One can ‘lead from any chair’ according to Benjamin Zander the conductor. Put differently, any one of us can exercise leadership no matter which position (chair) we occupy in the organisation. That is what the folks at Market Basket have shown. I wish to acknowledge those who show up for me as the unacknowledged leaders. The supervisors who took a stand and risked all to getting “Artie” reinstated, knowing that they were likely to be dismissed. And found themselves dismissed:
- Tom Gordon, grocery supervisor;
- Jim Lacourse, buyer;
- Joe Garon, buyer;
- Steve Paulenka, facilities and operation supervisor;
- Tom Trainor, distribution supervisor;
- Joe Schmidt, operations supervisor; and
- Dean Joyce, warehouse supervisor.
How to end this conversation?
What is a fitting end to this conversation? I share these quotes with you:
“Every man has to obey the voice of his own conscience, and be his own master and seek the Kingdom of God from within. For him there is no government that can control him …”
“This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
– Jesus (John 15:12-13)
The voice of my conscience calls me to work with you to co-create a world that works for all, none excluded. My conscience calls me to show up and travel in a manner that elevates my fellow human beings: to put into the game of life that “human” something that left Viktor Frankl touched, elevated. It occurs to me that this is the true meaning of Social not the watered down selfish twittering that passes for social.
What about you? What does the voice of your conscience call you to? What is the possibility that it speaks and are you listening to it?
Please note that a somewhat modified version of this conversation was first published on CustomerThink in October 2014.