Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Focusing on one's duty

Dave, a business owner, manages a lot of people. He faces a rather common scenario that most managers face. How do you react when people don’t perform their tasks in a manner that meets your expectations? Do you take them to task and have them do the job your way? Or do you remain passive and hope that things eventually work out the way you envisioned it without hurting the other person’s feelings? In either case, nobody wins. In the former scenario, you as the manager may feel that you have done your job, but have failed to recognize the short and long term collateral damage respectively in the form of hurting others feelings and eventual loss of productivity due to building resentment. When you remain passive and hope things will eventually work out, you fail in your duty as a manager and more importantly you may not be a positive influence by empowering people to develop the wrong work ethic.

The real answer to this question is changing the work culture. People frequently say that change trickles down from the top and does not rise up from the bottom. This serves as a convenient excuse for people at the bottom to continue in their set ways. If people at the top don’t make a conscious effort to change the status quo, whether good or bad is maintained. The top and bottom are relative concepts. If you visualize yourself at the center of a wheel that is turning, as the wheel turns a point at the top of the wheel eventually becomes a point at the bottom of the wheel and conversely, a point at the bottom of the wheel has a chance to rise to the top. At the center of the wheel that is turning, the top and the bottom of the wheel are relative concepts.

Why wait for others to change? Start the process of change from within yourself. You then make yourself the center of the wheel. As you turn the wheel of change in a positive direction, you equally influence both the top and the bottom of the wheel. To do this, you have to first adopt one or more principles that would be universally applicable and would not harm anyone in any shape or form. The lesson you impart by your universally applicable principle can only work if you abide by and live true to what you are trying to teach others. As an example of this two figures in modern history come to mind, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Both adopted the non-violent approach for their respective struggles. Both faced a lot of obstacles. But they did not waver from their principles. In the end, they were victorious and improved the lives of millions. One of the reasons for their success was the faith that they had in themselves and the principles that they adopted.

Whatever one's job may be, doing it to the best of one’s ability with the aim of helping others without asking what you are entitled to in return is another universally applicable principle. No one gets hurt in the process and everyone gains including yourself.  You may ask, if I do my best without expecting anything, how will it benefit me? By adopting this principle, you may influence a few others to think in this fashion. If they happen to be in your sphere of influence as part of your workplace, then the organization as a whole benefits. As more people adopt this line of thinking, bits and pieces of society start to improve and eventually the society as a whole benefits. When society benefits, the nation improves. When nations start to work for other nations, the world as a whole benefits. When people want the world to revolve around them no one benefits. However if you make yourself a tiny point in the center of world and join others in turning the wheel of the world into a better place for everyone, there will not be a top or a bottom. Everyone will be moving in one harmonious circle.