“You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.” – Mother Teresa
Relationships at all levels, family, friends or workplace yield success, joy, and fulfilment only when we live by sacred principles. Whether you are a housewife, or a manager of a company, you are part of a performing team; the team either blossoms and marches forward, or stagnates and breaks apart, depending on whether you enshrine or violate these natural laws.
Each member of a team, whether it’s your teenage daughter or a senior director of a multibillion dollar enterprise, needs ‘acceptance’. Acceptance refers to the feeling of being worthy and to experience a sense of contribution and inclusion in the team. If you are a parent, you could be violating this principle when you constantly chastise and undermine your child’s academic or sporting performances. When the child feels unworthy your team has suffered a major internal blow. If you are the president of a company and have a culture of seriously considering your subordinates’ suggestions, then you follow the principle of ‘acceptance’. Even if you don’t accept everything they say or do but if they are confident that they could walk up to you and express their concerns without the fear of being misunderstood or judged, you have created a positive culture of ‘acceptance’ within your company.
You may have to offer a strong corrective feedback to a team member or discipline your child. ‘Acceptance’ may seem difficult at such times. You can still create goodwill and ensure positive energy flowing in your family or office if you make it a point to regularly appreciate and encourage your team members. For instance if you have in the past caught your colleagues doing the ‘right thing’ and appreciated them in public, you have made a major positive deposit in their hearts. Later if you have to correct them, do so in private. The pain of correction would soon abate due to the sincere and unreserved appreciation that you offered in the past. Make sure your deposits far exceed the ‘withdrawals’.
I have sometimes seen young exuberant team members offer suggestions that are naïve and reflect a lack of understanding of the ‘big’ picture. Certain management decisions cannot be shared with them due to the sensitive nature of issues. However if you consistently appreciate their participation although you reject their contributions, you have kept them enthused. That’s because in rejecting all of what they have said you haven’t rejected them as a person. This principle helps us separate the issue from the person; the team member feels very much connected due to the consistent, unabated flow of encouragement from the leader. Besides, a younger member can sometimes see serious chinks in the management armour which the seniors may overlook. If he is happy and encouraged, he will be inspired to be part of the solution.
In a corporate or a family unit where members are starved of ‘acceptance’ and ‘appreciation’, they reduce their demand to the bare minimum; they at least want their presence to be acknowledged.
I remember once a congregation member who had serious mental hang ups about our leadership, had written a series of hate mails to the management committee. It was difficult for us to appreciate him. But if we continued to ignore him, he could cause havoc to the community by politicking and spreading rumours. The most sensitive approach in this case was to acknowledge all his grievances without agreeing to them or committing any actions. On behalf of the management body I met him daily for one week and noted all his concerns. He was relieved at the end for having been allowed to express his heart. Later we discussed those issues and replied to him that we had considered his remarks seriously although we couldn’t agree with them.
Considerable time and energy was spent in helping him change his prejudiced views. During this period it wasn’t prudent to ‘appreciate’ or ‘accept’ him wholeheartedly for he would have either perceived it as an attempt to manipulate him or he could have felt vindicated of his grievances. It was a serious affair but a potential disaster was averted by consistently acknowledging him. He still nurses some misgivings but fortunately he doesn’t vent it out on innocent members; he knows the leadership can take his criticisms. He continues to do service but occasionally his eccentric idiosyncrasies crop up with the management, without ruffling anyone else in the community. He doesn’t feel compelled to initiate any rebellion or build a group of disgruntled members. He is subconsciously aware that the leadership is proactive and more importantly acknowledges the issues he raises.
Few years ago an unusual problem occurred in our monastery in Mumbai; a stranger frequented our ashram premises, apparently when we were attending our morning classes. Daily, a few valuable things began to disappear, including the water tap fittings from the bathrooms. We knew a thief was sneaking in. We laid a trap but the thief was smarter; he stopped coming. As we wondered who the thief was, a young ashram member told me in confidence that he had seen this ‘thief’ probing the temple premises on a couple of occasions. I asked him why he hadn’t reported the matter to our ashram in charge. His answer shocked me; he expressed cynically that on many occasions in the past when he offered suggestions for ashram cleanliness or improving security systems, he had been snubbed and was told to mind his own business. He then felt alienated from our family and distanced himself from ashram issues. Although he was externally very much part of our ashram, his heart wasn’t there. Immediately we addressed the issue and the leader in question was confronted and made to apologize to the younger resident.
Although the young monk later overcame his negativities and grew up to be a responsible member of our community, the incident had rung loud alarm bells amongst the temple leaders; it became obvious to me that if we fail to follow the three sacred A’s, this fourth one- Alienation- is inevitable.
As spiritual leaders we do have the sacred responsibility of serving others and that requires us to first respect each of our team members, however new or ‘insignificant’ they may be. Les Giblin’s poignant remark humbles me, “You can’t make the other fellow feel important in your presence if you secretly feel that he is a nobody.”
As a responsible leader, of a family, sports team or a corporate unit, you have to decide if you are willing to live by these principles or pay a dear price for breaking them. Living by principles help build strong relationships and relationships are the sacred glue that holds team members together.