A while back, I spoke for the wonderful folks at The Dallas Foundation. Here is their tag line:
Here for Good.
It is a great tag line. And the phrase, “Here for Good,” should become some kind of mantra for many more companies and organizations.
I thought about this, again, as I pondered the current state of affairs. This blog post is a reflection about two or three different aspects of the modern business environment.
#1 – there are a lot of “bottom 10%ers” (the Jack Welch term), or “deadwood” employees (this is a term I heard from a very sharp and insightful man just this week), and they drag entire departments and organizations down. Maybe because the average “10%er” is just showing up at his/her job. Work is “just a job” to such a person.
#2 – There seem to be a fair number of companies/organizations (maybe some entire industries) which have slipped a little, or a lot, in the ethics department. These companies seem to have little concern about treating people in an ethical manner. And we find example after example in multiple industries, like NFL Football (bounties on players), to Wall Street firms (one firm: some customers are viewed as and defined as, and treated like, “muppets”), and education (teachers and administrators cheating on standardized tests).
It certainly seems like an era of ethical deficiencies.
Why? A comprehensive look at the why (the whys) is much beyond the scope of this brief article. But I think this question might help us think a little about this:
Do you have a job, a career, or a calling?
If you have a job, your vision for work is pretty narrow. Yes, there are plenty of people with a job who are hard-working, good, upright and honest people. But if all you have is a “job,” you care little about the success of the organization (beyond the ability to “keep your job”). You show up to get your pay check, and that may be about all that matters.
If you have a career, then you view your current job as a piece of the bigger puzzle of building a successful career. The subtle danger here is that you are concerned about you – your own success, not the success of others, even the success of your customers, or the others in your organization.
Yes, I know that one way to aim for success for yourself is to aim for the success of others. But to aim for the success of others in order to be successful yourself, well…that is a little on the self-centered side. You know, a little bit of the whole “greed is good” idea.
I think that if you are focused on yourself, building your career, then you might just be open to cutting a few ethical corners to get there.
But if you have a calling, then you view your work as “for the other.” You view work as a means to do what you were born to do, which is to live a life that is helpful and useful to others. A calling is not something you “do,” or “build” or “endure.” It is who you are, not what you do.
Maybe we need to find a way to lift our vision of work, past that of “just a job,” or “building a career,” to “fulfilling a calling.” This might help us lift ethical standards just a little higher.
Many organizations seem to value “servant leadership.” So, what is servant leadership? From Robert Greenleaf, who coined the term:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.“
View your work as that of fulfilling a calling; try to work for a servant leader, who is a servant first… As you “rise up the ladder,” you will become a servant leader yourself. You will serve others first, and always. Then you will be here, and at work, for good.