Embracing the Human Spirit

In a recent NYT Metropolitan Diary feature a reader lamented why s/he finds him/herself more concerned about a rat in a subway station than a homeless person on the street. I thank this person for having the courage to put his/her experience out there for all of us to reflect on. This person is not alone.  

Last week the 118th running of the Boston Marathon took place.  “Reclaim the Finish Line” was the theme embraced after the horrific terrorist bombing at the 2013 marathon.  Approximately 36,000 people ran from all over the world, which is about 8 % more than usual.

 

April 22nd was Earth Day, now acknowledged around the world as a time to focus on and encourage sustainable programs reducing carbon emissions, global warming, and increasing clean water supplies.  The recent report by the UN acknowledging the seriousness of global warming added a degree of seriousness to the issue.  We as a species have learned to self-destruct. It’s only a matter of time if we continue on the path we are on.

 

Our hearts go out to the families of more than 250 high school students who perished on a class trip in what appears to be dereliction of duty by the captain and some crew of the Korean ferry that sank. The school administrator who survived the disaster committed suicide, the Prime Minister Chung Hong-won resigned this weekend both acts of taking full responsibility for the disaster.  Grief counselors are present in the high school gymnasium where families await word of their children but few if any avail themselves of the service. Grief counseling is not embraced in the culture and having your children die before you is reason people take their own lives.

 

Families in China, Malaysia and other countries await word of the final resting place of their loved ones who were traveling on the ill-fated MA Flight 370.  People around the world empathize with their pain and frustration.

 

By now you are probably puzzling what this has to do with building engaged organizations?  Let me weave it together.

 

Compassion is alive and well around the globe.  It gives me hope.  It is so easy to forget the power of the human spirit. Crises of magnitude, terrorist acts, storms, etc. seem to bring out the best in people.  People want to help; they want to do something to alleviate the pain of those affected.  This is the human spirit at its best.   A “we are one” mindset exists naturally in people. In some cultures this is an explicit value.  In others, individualism and survival of the fittest predominate. A sense of connectedness, oneness, can lie dormant for years. Yet can move to the forefront of our minds immediately when disasters, natural or manmade and senseless acts of killing, take place. Think of the millions of dollars sent to help those in need or the scores of people from all over the country or the world who make it to the site of a disaster to lend a helping hand.

 

This weekend alone the news reported two incidents of good Samaritans.  One in which a waitress was given a $1000.00 tip to cover the cost of surgery for her dog and the other where a restaurant customer age 92 has paid the college tuition for a nursing student and promised to pay for her masters Degree as well. At the marathon last week there was a wonderful story about a runner who collapsed fairly close to the finish line.  Other runners rallied and carried him the distance letting him down before the finish line so that he could have the experience of crossing the finish- line alone.  This is a magnificent image.  Everyone is participating is something bigger then themselves, they see someone struggling, they stop to help putting the other’s need before their own and everyone wins. The human spirit is alive and well. We need for the media to acknowledge it regularly. These are steps in the right direction.

 

However, millions of people go to work each day feeling isolated, alone, bored, not valued or cared about.  This disconnection, particularly in the realm of social media overload, is intensified and causing people of all ages, ethnicities and professional or non-professional backgrounds to feel isolated and depressed. Can you imagine what would happen if the human spirit was alive and well in workplaces large and small?

 

I know it is in many businesses, certainly amongst groups of employees.  It gets thwarted though because of dysfunctional work structures.  We know that structure affects behavior.  Unfortunately in the last twenty plus years we have over-emphasized leadership and de-emphasized management which is most associated with structure.  Every worker knows there is someone in a role above them who makes essential decisions about their work, promotions, and compensation.  They know who that individual is.  Yet is some companies that is played down.

 

Of late we have not paid enough attention to the configuration of roles, authority and accountabilities in jobs.  Hierarchy is a natural organizing principle in science.  When systems reach a certain size they need to create a hierarchy of roles, and associated role relationships. Hierarchy is not bureaucracy. Work system hierarchies can be lean and support the release of human imagination, innovation, creativity and profitability in companies. Hierarchies provide the conditions in which the human spirit thrives at work.

 

It is essential for the human spirit to be vibrant in all of us in both our personal lives and our work lives.  Do you have the courage to embrace your Spirit?  I welcome your comments on these thoughts.