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It Pays to Notice

June 29, 2019 (1,007 words)

My kind no longer does manual labor to make a living, the way our grandparents did. And we don’t go in for the rather pedestrian civil servant or middle-management positions that were the pride and joy of our parents.

No, we have moved up the ladder in truly remarkable fashion. Our delicate hands now manipulate a keyboard all the live-long day, instead of a pick and shovel. There is support staff to screen our calls, greet our visitors, and shuffle our paperwork.

We are – dare I say it – in charge of things. We are now the ones chairing meetings where metrics are established and lofty goals are set. We are the ones who call for endless reports no one ever reads, and issue wave-after-wave of convoluted instructions aimed at the rank-and-file.

We have become the “leaders of tomorrow,” just as our school systems promised we would one day be, all those years ago.

losing touch with those around us…

Delegating is what we do best. But as we have become oh-so specialized, and as our work routines have become ever more compartmentalized, we have lost touch with the everyday people who must execute our directives and meet our goals.

And that’s just within our own organizations. Outside of work, we have completely lost touch with the remainder of the population who are still employed doing the jobs we see ourselves as having evolved out of.

This is a phenomenon sociologists have studied and commented on at length. Our economy has morphed over the last half century or so in such a way that the bosses no longer live in the same neighborhoods as the employees. Physicians no longer live on the same street as their patients.

Our kids don’t grow up together, attending the same schools. And our respective families have little, if any, occasion to interact socially.

The problem with this arrangement is that it’s hard to have compassion and develop empathy for your fellow man, or to love your neighbor as yourself, if he remains a stranger to you.

cultivating a connection with those under your care…

A hallmark of the deposit of faith known as Catholic social teaching is the principle of subsidiarity.
It goes something like this: People in a position of authority charged with making important decisions must cultivate a close, personal connection to those under their care who are affected by those decisions.

This is an absolute pre-requisite if you want to maintain the peace and keep everybody cheerfully moving in the same direction, whether you are talking about a family, a business, or an entire society.

But to focus on the business aspect of this for a moment, workers don’t expect their bosses to be letter perfect, they just want them to pay attention and not be blinded by ego and self-interest.

When a new policy initiative is clearly not working out as anticipated, revise as needed, and as quickly as possible. Don’t let concern for your reputation as an “effective leader” get in the way of admitting mistakes and correcting them.

My favorite profiles (or obituaries) are of those decidedly old-school business leaders who believe in “management by walking around.” There is surely more than one way to run a company. But walking around the shop floor or the office floor, and interacting with those you encounter on your walks, is tried and true.

High-priced consultants theorize about the lagging work ethic of those stuck erecting the structures we live and work in, who build the roads and bridges we travel across, and assemble the planes, trains, and automobiles that move us from place-to-place.

what sours people is performing in obscurity…

And yes, there are slackers in every generation, across every walk of life. But the grousing one might hear on the job from the rank-and-file is the result – more than anything else, I believe – of being forced to perform in obscurity. This is what sours people. Why keep my nose to the grindstone and put out for these people, if nobody notices what I do?

Our organizations have gotten so large, and the principle of subsidiarity has been so forgotten, that the little people doing the actual work are never made to feel that somebody up there loves them.

It is truly amazing what can be achieved attitude-wise by looking someone in the eye and saying, “thanks for taking care of that. I’m glad you were here today to make sure this got done properly and as efficiently as possible.”

Especially when the person being addressed was someone previously thought to be a bit of a slacker, mainly because his supervisor went by hearsay or prior reputation, and had not spent enough time in direct proximity to the individual out on the job where he plies his trade and works his magic.

That’s right, I said “magic.” It’s an important element for my kind to ponder. Anyone who has developed a demonstrable level of competence over time is capable of such magic at work.

The people in our employ need to know we recognize the breadth of their skill set, and realize they aren’t just chopped liver. In other words, my kind is not the only kind who brings something of value to the table.

Most everyone wants to take pride in their performance, but we all need some positive re-enforcement from time-to-time to keep that pride alive.

Fortunately, at the small white collar salt mine where I punch a clock, it’s easy to give and receive such positive reinforcement.

And opportunities for reputation reversal among our field staff, the ones who actually complete our company’s installations in the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan and center-city Philadelphia, still present themselves on a fairly regular basis.

At least to those of us in the office who are able to venture out to visit those installations from time-to-time, and maintain a semblance of personal contact with our many talented, by-the-hour magicians.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
June 29, 2019

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