Our greatest assets in organizations are employees who are ‘other-centered’.
Many are inspired by strong visionary leaders and managers who can mobilize their teams to achieve breakthrough results. However, those who manage people and businesses also know the dictum – people are our greatest assets.
This is not a mere rhetorical management slogan.
A team member who is ‘other-centered’ brings meaning, productivity, and dignity to the workplace. Such a team member cares deeply to strengthen relationships at the workplace – to make work a team sport.
To discover, recruit and develop an employee who is ‘other-centered’ would be of great satisfaction and pleasure for a manager. An interesting dynamics in such a discovery is that such an employee is not noticed as an individual, and often does not manifest the traits of a high potential talent especially in the early membership phase in the team.
In my managerial career, I was blessed to have learned and been inspired by team members who were ‘other-centered’.
Years ago, a newly minted management associate joined my team. Our interview with her felt like a casual conversation. I was struck by how unguarded she was. She displayed none of the presumptuous smarts that were typically found in a Generation Y talent.
When we probed her reason for wanting to join the team, she explained that she needed a higher salary to contribute to her family. Despite our stern demeanor at the interview, she was able to make us laugh. So we decided to take her as we wanted to contribute to her growth. Although she was not fully able to explain her key strengths and traits, she demonstrated authenticity during the entire interview.
She did not have an analytic background required for the role but she had a steep learning curve. We noticed too that she never rejected any assignments, and was extremely grateful for any coaching or development opportunities given to her.
By learning what makes others tick, she displayed early signs of making a commitment to excel. In one of our discussions, she claimed that she was more prone to making mistakes than other team members as she felt she was not as intelligent.
However, when I checked with other team members, they refuted her claim and replied instead that it was due to her perseverance in learning from genuine mistakes coupled with her evergreen pleasantness that had helped to strengthen relationships with stakeholders.
She got things done by learning from others, and always displaying gratitude for their contributions. Team members gave consistent feedback that she was willing to do however small or menial tasks that could help the team. I went back to her to describe what others had said about her. She made the team complete.
Upon reflection, it dawned on me that this ‘other-centered’ trait is what gives life to a dynamic workplace. While all organizations have to frame their strategies and operating model for high performance, having individuals who manifest genuine care for doing what is necessary to enable others to achieve their goals is what greases the machinery of high performance.
The paradox is that such ‘other-centered’ team members can often be taken for granted as they don’t make a big deal of how they contribute towards the team. They simply do whatever is required of them to enable others to do their work productively. More importantly, the ‘other-centered’ employee weaves the relationships among team members and, between the team and their stakeholders.
In Hermann Hesse’s 1932 mythological novel, Journey to the East Journey, he related the story of a narrator H.H. who became a member of ‘The League’, a timeless religious sect whose members included famous fictional and real characters, on a pilgrimage to ‘the East’ in search of the ‘ultimate Truth’.
Accompanying the entourage was a simple servant named Leo. Described as genial and beloved by everyone, he could develop a rapport with animals. Their journey ran into a crisis within a deep mountain gorge when Leo disappeared, causing the group to disintegrate into anxiety and argument among remaining members. H.H. subsequently deserted the league.
Years later H.H. got reunited with Leo who directed him to the League’s headquarters. Within the archives of the headquarters, H.H. was taken to the court of the League members to answer for his transgressions. Shockingly, H.H. discovered that Leo the servant presided over the court.
In the pursuit of great achievements, we could infer from the relationship between H.H., and the League members, that Leo was a metaphor for value and he harnessed what gave life to leadership.
It was the ‘other-centered’ team members, often unsung in the Hero’s Journey that completed the Hero. There were also those who bemoan the lack of great leaders in times of volatility, uncertainty, and change.
Perhaps real leadership could ensue if we paid attention to ‘other-centered’ employees who enable harmony and unify the team by making their service to others as a way of life.
To discover and polish more of such ‘gems’ could help usher the servant-leadership in organizations. Indeed, it is the ‘other-centered’ team members among us who completes the work of leadership.