“from reaction to response, how attitude determines the culture”
I don’t know if a work environment ever soured for you the way it did for Ted; but even if not, you have an idea of ‘comeuppance’, and will understand his struggles during his tenure as Vice-President of a benevolent fund eight years ago.
During Ted’s vacation, his boss intentionally hired and slotted a whiz kid onto his team, saying Ted wouldn’t have wanted someone else to snap her up. It was a ruse, for although Ted was a brilliant executive, a charismatic speaker and media darling; it fed an ego that intimidated his boss, co-workers and the workplace culture.
“I’m going to form my own company,” he told me a few days later. “I need time to plan and convert some holdings; so, for now, I’ll stay put.”
I expected him to talk about the venture as the days and weeks passed, but he harped-on about what his boss had done, or seethed about the newcomer’s brazen attitude. One Friday, he finished a tale about the latest fracas by saying: “…the tirade ended when I shouted. She wasn’t cowed; in fact, she looked smug!”
The following Monday, his boss, along with the HR Director, strode into his office and without preliminaries, enumerated incidents of Ted’s ‘bullying’. When his boss was done, he plunked an expulsion letter on the desk. One thing stuck out: the severance package was exceptional, and as Ted realized, designed to avert further contact. He signed it, silently gathered his things, and headed for the safety of home.
“Halfway there, I began shaking so badly, I pulled the car over, got out and began walking blindly. I was stunned, then angry; I’d been ‘set-up!’ Then, shame hit me as I thought of this or that person finding out. Could I position it as ‘a resignation’? I was devising how, when Mark Twain’s words: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything”, came to me ‒ as did the fear at all I’d lose for the sake of truth.”
Shock. Anger. Shame. Fear. He was charged with Reactions.
“You need some recovery time,” Laurie [his wife] cautioned after he told her, “so let’s agree; no decisions or plans for a while. Give yourself a chance to untangle.” He knew she was right. And figured two weeks should do the trick.
The Attitude Change
“Two weeks?! It took me months to come to grips with the loss … months! Just as I was beginning to think I’d never find my way out, Laurie handed me Daniel Boorstin’s quote: ‘The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the oceans was not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.’
And I realized:
• we humans live by ‘knowing’, and by knowing:
• we think we know. We know ‘the real truth’; what others should do; the right rights and exact wrongs; Then someone/thing precious takes leave, and we discover:
• we didn’t, don’t and won’t know. Knowing isn’t final; it flows, unfolds and therefore:
• no one knows. I don’t know and you don’t know, for wasn’t it a nano-second ago we knew the world was flat; leeches were the best curative; and other than a nucleus, the atom was empty? And do we know why we’re all here; the events of the future ‒ or even of the past given the startling variances even when recalling childhood happenings with family members. Knowing changes.
Admitting I didn’t know much was painful, pride-destroying and ego-stripping, but it changed my perspective. I was looking up to, and at others: at their challenges, situations and behaviours. I was becoming aware; I was learning. It was vastly interesting, immensely freeing and far more profound than knowing, and it led to some hard thinking about my life purpose; my intentions and the course I could take.”
Ted set about creating a company that’s consistently ranked at the top, or among the three, five or ten best workplaces in the province. While interviews with front-line employees and executives tend to focus on the generous salaries, benefits, gym, day-care for children and elders’ programs, it’s clear they’d forgo all those things, before they would their ability to“…take any concern to Ted;” or “…use him as a great sounding-board;” in spite of their proud declarations that: “…we’re the decision-makers;” and when messing-up, if he was there to say: “…if you learned about yourself, you’re free to let it go.”
For the past few years, Ted (He arranged my unlimited pass), and I have been working-out together in his company gym. As I sometimes have to wait for him, I’ll go from floor to floor, visiting people who have become friends over the years, but more often, I prefer to sit quietly and imagine the harmony, the terrific vibe, the sheer congruity in this place flowing out and through every leader’s workspace, every executive’s office, every boardroom in the city. Too fanciful, perhaps; but if someone of Ted’s ilk could form new attitudes and base a new culture on them: then ‒ why not!
[Suss out your attitudes in our May 2013 issue. The quiz is freeing and free.]