Leadership Lessons: Too Much Capitalism and not Enough Teamwork

Last week I was travelling through the San Francisco airport with time to kill. I decided to treat myself to a mini-massage in one of those popular “airport spas”. I was introduced to Hargrove, the gentle man who would single-mindedly devote the next 30 minutes to the physical well being of my neck and back. 

I am a curious Canadian. We know what the U.S. politicians are saying about the state of affairs in America in this election year. My curiosity lies in what the silent majority, the masses of men who lead lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau would say, are thinking and feeling about their future. 

Meet Hargrove. He is my massage therapist angel. He’s the middle of 9 kids who along with his parents moved as children from Hawaii to California to find a better life. His childhood was not easy. As a grown man, he now has 8 kids of his own, worries about their well-being, and by his own accord lives on “The Verge” of losing…. his home, his family, his way of life, and his well being to relentless exhaustion. There are more bills than money, more stress than hope. And by a miracle of the human spirit he perseveres. 

As I am bent over a massage chair in a most unflattering way, I ask him what it will take for America to fix their problems. Without hesitation he answers, “There’s too much capitalism and not enough team work.” A strong statement that deserves teasing apart. The gist of his mini-lecture, is that people are only concerned about themselves; the “I” culture trumps the “we” culture. For him capitalism is a state of mind. It’s not just about wealth accumulation; it’s really about scarcity. There is only so much to go around, so better me than you. Social good or working together to really solve a big problem is a hit and miss proposition. I am dumbfounded. I realize I am getting a 2-fer; a massage and a lesson in leadership that many people would pay for. 

He’s on a roll now. The pace of his message matches the pace of his hands searching out those hidden stress points on my back. He goes on to say that people have to be responsible and accountable for their lives. His voice lowers and he whispers in my ear that he’s the poster child for living and accepting the “consequences” of his life. As he puts the finishing touches on my back, he proudly shares that not only has he been able to step up and own both his problems and consequences, but he has stepped out to move beyond them to become a better human being. 

My heart is joyously full. The knots in my back gone. I have profound respect and gratitude for this stranger who has performed magic on my back and once again confirmed the natural goodness, decency and leadership wisdom of people.

Thank you Hargrove for reminding us about the natural leadership wisdom that resides in all of us.

Hargrove so eloquently reminds us that leadership resides in everyone. We ALL possess a natural knowing, a goodness and a desire to contribute. As leader, take the time to create the conditions where these attributes are the rule rather than the exception. If we released this kind of pent up energy we wouldn’t need to spend thousands on innovation or blue-sky initiatives. We would “talk things out” rather than “buy programs or processes” to figure things out.

The root of the word “I” is scarcity. As leaders, actions rooted in “I” usually end in a result that is less than what we need or expect. This is because “I” is about binary outcomes. There is always a winner and a loser. “It’s either me OR you, so better me.” “I” leadership is costly….on many different levels. “I” in leadership is a privilege, not a right. Don’t abuse it.

The word “We” is rooted in possibility and abundance. It implies the “and” conversation. There is enough for both you AND me so there is more than one obvious outcome based on a set of possibilities that are co-created. As leaders we often trade the “we” conversation for time….and as a result also sacrifice potential breakthrough to new and different outcomes. We learn in Crucial Conversations that “we” conversations also achieve both higher quality results and more satisfying relationships.

Finally, the “we” conversation makes mutual responsibility and accountability much easier to achieve. Together, we have entered into an agreed to approach and outcome. It is up to each party to check-in with each other to confirm what is and is not working so course corrections are made naturally and without ego interference.

The “I” conversation often sidesteps responsibility and accountability; it is much easier to talk about blame than what is mutually not working.

As leaders we will be more effective when we focus “more on teamwork than capitalism” to coin Hargrove’s words.

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