Do you look through a lens of self-concern? I do. And, I’m sure you do as well. The bigger question is whether we can all set aside that lens to focus on concern for our teammates, colleagues, clients, customers, investors, etc.
I arrived at this topic today from three very different threads—pulling them gently through together.
- The first thread was a conversation with a client about team culture. I shared an experience in building the culture at Sibson & Company where I was the Head of HR. One aspect of the culture was that we watched out for each other. We all worked hard, and the actual work was hard. But, we also socialized a practice of keeping our heads up for our colleagues. For example, when we noticed someone at the office too late, too many days in a row, we reached out to the person or the person’s coach. If I heard about someone “floundering,” I would go the the right person and say “go check in on so-and-so.” One of my standard expectations for those working for me was “never stay alone in a problem.” We intentionally created a tough-on-performance, but caring-about-people culture.
- The second thread was an op-ed in the New York Times by David Brooks called The Power of Altruism. He makes the point that it is natural to be caring, to reach out to help another person. He notes that in Samuel Bowles’ book The Moral Economy, Bowles gives an example of “six day-care centers in Haifa, Israel, that imposed a fine on parents who were late in picking up their kids at the end of the day. The share of parents who arrived late doubled. Before the fine, picking up their kids on time was an act of being considerate to the teachers. But after the fine, showing up to pick up their kids became an economic transaction. They felt less compunction to be kind.”
- The third thread came from my darling three year-old grand-daughter. Our family was on vacation last week on the North Fork of Long-Island, beaching and fishing. In reflection, I am amazed that with a typically toddler self-centeredness, she was the first one to wipe up our dog’s drips from her water bowl, the one to offer help Grandpa in rinsing the fishing rods, and an excellent waitress for chips-and-dip for her older cousins. She seemed delighted to participate and to be of help to us all.
In our challenging work and organizations, it is very easy to stay focused on our own results, our own relationships, our own rewards. Yet, there is a strong satisfaction when we lift our lens to others, when we lend a helping hand that we don’t necessarily have to extend—selflessly. And, our collective results will likely be far better, with less struggle.