(No) Thanks for (Not) Giving at the Office | Selflessness at Work

“I gave at the office! ” That’s the put-off line used by many when asked for yet another donation to a charity, special cause, or fund-raiser. It’s a kind of cop out to stop the asking, whether we gave or not.

The reality is: There are many truly compelling reasons why we’re asked to contribute time and money to help people in dire trouble, some we may know and many we don’t.

We witnessed it in the 2012 devastation and loss of life caused by:

  • Hurricane Sandy on the east coast
  • Raging forest fires out west
  • Tornados in the mid-west
  • Relentless drought across the country

The news coverage connects us with the human misery, the disruption to people’s lives, and the unfathomable monetary and material loss. “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” we say to ourselves.

Many of us look for some way to help. We may send money through organizations like the American Red Cross or Salvation Army. We may hop on buses or get in our cars and go to lend a hand.

In a dramatic crisis, something in our hearts motivates us to help however we can.

Pain at the office

Our jobs can become increasingly demanding, so it’s easy to become absorbed in our own daily grind. We’re engrossed in meeting performance expectations, dealing the boss’s idiosyncrasies, struggling with changing work methods, and managing our time.

The truth is: Crises find their way into our offices. They may affect your work unit, the department, the company, or simply the coworker you sit next to.

It’s things like:

  • A new employee who 1.) no one talks to; 2.) is mistreated, 3.) makes mistakes, or 4.) struggles to master the work
  • A persistent conflict among coworkers who can’t find common ground on a work issue
  • A boss who alienates certain team members because s/he doesn’t understand how the work is done
  • A failed work process that caused customer outrage
  • A workplace accident resulting in the serious injury of several employees
  • An unexpected workload that must be completed asap to meet customer deadlines

The big question is: What are you prepared to do?

  • Will you wait until someone asks you to pitch in?
  • Will you lay low because you “don’t want to get your hands dirty?”
  • Will you  step up and offer your ideas, expertise, time, and/or leadership?

When trouble comes to your office, there’s an opportunity to “give” of yourself because it’s the right thing to do.

Selflessness is part courage.

Crises are relative. A crisis to you may or may not be a crisis to me. It just matters that when people feel that the situations they’re in are more than they can handle, you have an opportunity to offer help.

Crises manifest confusion. Leadership promises to restore order. Your selfless entry into a crisis of any dimension is a willingness to address that confusion and quell some of it.

As with any disaster, we need to give what we know we can. It’s not about over-extending or over-reaching.

At work you can:

  • Help that struggling coworker by showing them how to avoid errors or helping them build friendships
  • Offer an idea that will help conflicting parties reach a compromise
  • Talk to the boss about his/her work knowledge if you have the right kind of relationship with him/her
  • Provide an idea that will help fix that failed customer process
  • Suggest a change in safety procedures
  • Work extra hours to meet that surprise workload

That’s how you “give at the office” when things get dicey. It’s about you thinking more about someone else than about yourself.

Thanks giving

Getting in the habit of giving selflessly at work and in the community enriches us. It’s a habit that builds on itself. The more we do, the easier it gets.

When we recognize the value of those opportunities to give, the “thanks giving” comes from within us. In many cases, “ thanks getting” will follow.

Photo from paperbacklou via Flickr

The Price of Doing What’s Right—Willing to Pay it? | Leadership Courage

Coming face-to-face with “wrong” tests the leader in you. Doing something about it tests your courage.                     

To get around both, people say: 

  • It’s not my job.
  • Someone must have authorized that.
  • It must be okay if my boss is doing it.
  • I just don’t know enough to step in.
  • I don’t want to get involved in something messy. 

When we know something is wrong and don’t intervene, we become culpable. So whatever happens in the near or long-term, we share the blame. 

The power of fear 

Lots of bad things go on at work: 

  • Bullying and harassment
  • Lying and records tampering
  • Misuse of technology
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Collusion and fraud 

We may witness things that are a big deal or seemingly minor, like the difference between a bold-face lie and a white one. Both are, of course, lies. 

We may sense that something isn’t right or see it clear as day. In both cases, we are faced with a choice—to speak/act or stay silent/do nothing. 

There are laws that protect whistle blowers which may be of small comfort. We’re often more concerned about what will happen to us if we “go to someone in authority.” Once we do that, our work life and/or our career likely changes forever. 

So we’re faced with what we stand for and who we really are—someone more interested in our own best interest or an advocate for doing what’s right. That’s a question to ask your reflection in the nearest mirror. 

Stand tall 

No matter where you are on the organization chart, you’re in a position to protect what’s right. Recently, Chris Matthews from MSNBC’s Hardball called attention to those “people with moral authority who perform in a lowly way” when speaking about the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University. 

Matthews reminded viewers that there are people in authority who are more interested in protecting what’s good for them and the brand of their organization than doing what’s morally and ethically right for individuals, the community, and/or society. 

Jack McCallum, long time writer for Sports Illustrated and grad school friend of mine, recently wrote a column about an interview he’d done with alleged sexual predator, Jerry Sandusky from Penn State, where Jack confessed he’d been fooled about the guy. 

Jack shared these insights with a college class he was teaching that included discussion about “group mindset and the power of the brand:”

We do not know all that happened at Penn State, but we know this much: The Football Program, the engine that brings in $50 million profit and defines the school much more than its outstanding academic curriculum, is to be protected at all costs. Over the years — through national championships, expansion of Beaver Stadium, the flood of donor millions and canonization of Saint Joe — that mindset had calcified and become S.O.P. [standard operating procedure], as it does at so many football power palaces. 

At some time in the future, I told the members of my class, there’s a good chance they will be asked to choose between protecting the institution and doing the right thing. That choice will not be simple because there is strength in numbers, security in the collective and a selfish investment in group success. Doing the right thing is sometimes the hardest thing when it should be the easiest.

Chris Matthews makes the point that we each need to fight to protect right and undo wrong by bringing it into our roles, whatever they are and wherever we work.

Call to action

It’s time to ask yourself some “What would I do questions?” How far are you willing to go to protect one person, a group, your company, or society? It’s a question that leads to answers about your courage, leadership, and conviction.

I have written before how important it is to be vigilant at work. Always ask yourself, “What’s really going on here?” and “What is this person about?” Both questions will help you see what others don’t, position you to act with confidence, and recognize what’s just and what isn’t.

Photo from bean45cc via Flickr

How Becoming the Boss Can Change You

Faults are often easier to see in others than ourselves. As employees we’re daily observers and targets of our supervisor’s style. What we see reflects what our supervisors have become. 

If we’re lucky, we’ve got a good boss. If not, we’d like to run for the hills. 

It’s hard to believe that ineffective supervisors used to be regular employees, like us. They had the same expectations from their own bosses for: 

  • Honesty and respect
  • Clear direction and the tools to do good work
  • Open communication and the chance to be heard
  • Fair performance feedback and opportunities to grow 

So what changes when those same employees become supervisors? Could it happen to you? 

What we see. 

There’s an endless list of perceived causes about what happens when coworkers become the boss or the boss’s boss or an executive. It’s a vicious chain that gets more toxic as poor supervisors get promoted. 

We often label those bad bosses as: 

  • Drunk on power and authority
  • Management’s pawn
  • Afraid of making mistakes
  • Micromanagers looking for scapegoats
  • Protecting his/her territory 

These changes, affecting one-time, regular employees who become the boss, are often the result of fear, confusion, and struggles for career survival. 

What they discover 

No one who gets promoted really knows what they’re getting into. It’s all rosy and can-do at the interview. The promoting manager fawns over the new supervisor, declaring how s/he has all the right stuff to handle the task. 

The hiring manager promises all kinds of support. “I’ll be there to help you. We’ll be a great team.”

This is fine and dandy if the hiring manager is actually a good boss. If not, things can go south quickly. 

Remember this: You don’t really know what you’re walking into until you get there. 

Tests that can change you 

As a supervisor or manager faced with these situations, what would you do? 

  • Your manager wants your performance ratings to form a bell curve. You have a high performing, veteran workgroup. You’re told to lower specific employee’s ratings.
  • You recommend the best candidate interviewed for a job vacancy. Your boss disagrees and tells you to hire someone s/he knows and likes.
  • You’re told to deliver a half-truth about the company’s financial shape.
  • Your boss insists that you receive recognition for work done by one of your employees because it will look more impressive to the board.
  • One of your employees, a valuable contributor, has objected openly to a policy your boss enacted. You’re told to build a case to get rid of him. 

Each of these situations challenges you to stand up for what you believe is right. Do you have the courage, influence, and leverage to resolve these fairly?

Or will you just do what you’re told, protect your own job, or make a token effort to do the right thing and then go along? 

These are knotty questions. They’re about how much you’re willing to put on the line. You will have to untangle a host of justifications, read between the lines, and weigh consequences. You’ll have to separate the right from the wrong.

There may be a lot of history, precedent, and perspectives to influence your thinking. You will now have insights that your employees don’t. Your vantage point is different from theirs and you will have to figure out how to bridge it. That’s what good supervisors do. 

Check yourself. 

If what you’re being asked to do doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That’s the time to stop and think. Ask yourself: 

  • What are the impacts and implications of this action?
  • Who benefits? Who gets hurt?
  • What more do I need to understand? 

Keep asking “why” questions of your manager until you get the clarity you need. At the very least, your questions may be all that’s needed to influence a change in direction. That’s how your business fitness works for you. 

Tomorrow you may become the new boss somewhere in your organization. Better to be the agent of change than the victim of it! Everyone’s counting on you. 

Photo from cbanck via Flickr