Write offs and criticisms in the workplace
I once had particular youngster mentee who smoked pot and drank heavy. Although multi-talented with nothing to show for it, he was supposedly the perfect description of an NFA (No Future Ambition). But he had started to feel exhausted from the emptiness. And this particular Sunday, he decided to go with his mom to church wearing his plaited braids and the only type of clothes he had; faded, torn jeans and boots he is comfortable with. Everyone kept staring at him funny. The usher made him sit at the back for no reason. They didn’t want him showing up in the picture-perfect image of elites in suits and native at the front seats.
While in that church service, sitting at the place the system put him; his phone rang during the sermon. And with his ringtone playing Naira Marley’s song, everyone turned in a murmur. As if it wasn’t embarrassing enough, openly, the pastor scolded him. And then the pastor diverted his sermon into being carnal. It must have felt like hell while in church for this young man.
His mom who was a church worker kept on lecturing him on his foolishness and carelessness all the way home. During the evening she brought it up again. Having heard enough of his mistake for one night, he got up the dinner table and decided to take a walk to a bar nearby. He had his mind made up, that he’d never step foot in the church again. Heaven just lost a soul!
At the bar, while deep in thoughts about it, he spilled his drink on the table by accident. The waiter unlike the pastor this time apologized and gave him a napkin to clean himself. The janitor mopped the floor. The female manager offered him a complimentary drink. She also gave him a huge hug and a kiss while saying, “Don’t worry man. Who doesn’t make mistakes?”
He felt better and even bought more drinks that night. He was going to stop drinking. But after then, he never stopped going to that bar since then.
This isn’t a Sunday sermon article; it’s on how we discourage young guns around us till they give up on themselves. It’s what leaders in corporate world also do to new hires, especially those without a voice, those without experience and exposure. Just like judging a fish by its ability to fly and a bird by its inability to swim, we make them feel less.
The truth is, YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE BY HOW YOU TREAT PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY MAKE MISTAKES. YOU CAN’T TELL HOW THEY FEEL ALREADY.
As a leader, whether in the corporate world, family or your community, judge less and make someone’s betterment your personal project without overly hurting them or making them feel less. You may be shocked on how much they are trying. Encourage people. Show that you are genuinely rooting for their growth. Show that you care and not just showing off that they are supposedly less than others or even the ‘all knowing you’. The truth is, people really don’t care how much you know, till they know how much you care. We are all going through stuff. Act like you can relate first, then drive your agenda next. We may just be their saviours, God sent. Since we know no one who has gone to heaven to see God and back, I put it to you that you are the only God some people may ever see.
There are too many hostile environments around us, from abusive relationships to domestic violence, from cyber bullying on the internet to boardroom shredding. People say terrible things, but you shouldn’t be one of them. People have fallen off for what they are told, while a few bounces back. Not everyone can rebound from what they are told like the classic stories of Disney, Edison and them.
Walt Disney’s newspaper editor told the aspiring cartoonist once upon a time that he wasn’t creative enough. As a matter of fact, after tormenting him for months, laid him off for a blunt reason that he lacked imagination. But that same Walt Disney had a tremendous vision and drive of where he wanted to be. At the age of 16, he decided he wanted to study art. At the age of 19, he started making cartoon ads to be shown in movie theatres. He didn’t earn enough money, but he loved what he did. When he turned 22, he moved to Los Angeles. There he drew cartoons in his garage. He was absolutely fascinated by these. A cartoon is made by drawing many pictures and showing them one after another so quickly that the pictures become animated, or seem to move. He liked to make the characters do funny things. When he was 27, he created Mickey Mouse. In his studio, mice would gather in the garbage can next to his desk. He decided to keep them for his pets. He got little cages for three of them and they lived on top of his desk. He had a particular favourite among the mice who inspired the cartoon character Mickey Mouse.
During the ten years that followed, Walt Disney invented Donald Duck, Snow White, Goofy, Pluto, and many more cartoon characters that are famous, even to this day. Many people, children and adults alike, have gone to movie theatres to see his short cartoons. For someone who was written off and was said that he lacked imagination, this was just the beginning of his success!
Not everyone can weather the storm and turn out like that. People have gone into depression, given up on their dreams and even committed suicide for what they have been told. `Contempt kills. As a leader, you are not to be a sage on the stage; you are to be the guide by the side. Don’t talk down on people. Not everyone can see the best in themselves when others don’t, not everyone can build structures from the bricks and stones thrown at them. If people who are not there yet are put under your care, it’s for you to mentor and show them a vision they haven’t yet seen.
In the words of Mike Murdock, “Sight is the ability to see things as they are; Vision is the ability to see things as they could be. Vision is more important than sight. Be a visionary leader.
It’s important to not write people off. A classic illustration of this is Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb and co-founder of GE. While growing up, everyone called him dumb! He was even diagnosed dyslexic. His grade school teacher once wrote to his mother with advice to withdraw him from school that Edison was “addled” and wouldn’t be allowed in their school anymore. When Edison asked his mother what the letter said, she quickly cleaned her teary eyes and pretended to read the letter out loud to her child, saying: Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have enough good teachers for training him. Please teach him yourself.
After many, many years, after Edison’s mother died and he was now one of the greatest inventors of the century, one day he was looking through old family things. Suddenly he saw a folded paper in the corner of a drawer in a desk. He took it and opened it up. On the paper was written: Your son is addled [mentally ill]. We won’t let him come to school any more
Edison cried for hours and then he wrote in his diary: “Thomas Alva Edison was an addled child that, by a hero mother, became the genius of the century.”
We all can bring out the Heroes in our subordinates. I will suggest that before any criticism, you start with a praise, then diffuse that to constructive criticism. Also ask them what help they need. Often times the simple question of “How can I help?” will start the process of encouraging an employee or someone under your care to see things differently and respond appropriately. Coach them to not just identify failures but to discover choices. Discover and celebrate their small yet incremental wins. Demonstrate your confidence in them and build up the little they have. Let them know that it’s not what they don’t have that stops them. That it’s the little they have but don’t know how to use. Be a level 5 leader. I look forward to helping you build that for your organisation.