I recently came across a tale from the Talmud that spoke of a man who was granted a glimpse of the afterlife. First he was shown a vision of Hell, where groups of hungry, unhappy people are sitting round a banquet table laden with beautiful, delicious looking foods. It was a feast laid out! Unfortunately, the elbows of every person are locked so they can’t bend their arms to get the food on their forks into their mouths. The room is filled with the sounds of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Then the man is shown a vision of heaven. Here happy people are gathered around a similar banquet table laden with an equally magnificent feast. Their elbows too, are locked. But rather than impotently complain, they reach out and feed each other! Each person feeds someone else… selecting for them exactly what they want in exactly the right amount until the other person is completely satisfied. And then, the person who has just been fed returns the favour by feeding someone else. Thus everyone is fully fed. The room is filled with the sound of joy, rejoicing and celebration.
This story caused me to question the competitive alignment that has driven individuals and their organisations to hard decisions that isolate and drive them to be the best, to be number one, to outdo everyone else. Senior executives recognise how this competitive drive introduces all kinds of pressures and stresses upon people – not just at the board level, but even more so on middle managers and their staff.
This situation seems to have been exacerbated by the financial credit crunch over the last eight years. Companies under threat of shrinkage or business failure have been merciless in cutting staff, cutting resources and generally behaving in ways that make people inside the organisation feel threatened, constantly anxious and worried for their future. It is at times like these that a company’s stakeholders can see how the humans that lead the organisation determine its outcomes.
Moderate, collaborative style leaders create supportive, collaborative environments. Leaders with forceful, competitive, and aggressive natures lead with behaviours that go to form pressured styled environments that break psychological trust amongst co-workers. Competitive behaviours produced for managing external challenges, leak out into the internal ways of working, even banishing collaboration within the organisation itself; causing the formation of silos and the withholding of information, assistance and help that could be given. For some of the individuals working within that competitive environment, they experience Hell indeed.
The collaborative model suggested by the story from the Talmud suggests that there is enough to eat for everyone. There is enough business for everyone to eat, to survive and thrive. Everyone can eat as much as they like, but only if they assist each other to eat and to take their turn. The lesson for all managers and leaders wishing to benefit from the riches that collaboration can bring, is be unselfish first – offer help to others first, before expecting to be helped. Give before expecting to receive.
Revolutionary thinking indeed…
20 November 2015