Last week we had a vibrant discussion about ethics at our dinner table. The family had watched a popular talent contest and saw where judges had suggested to contestants in two groups that they disband as only one singer in each group was deemed talented enough to continue in the contest. In one case the split took place and in the second the contestant refused to leave her bandmates behind, risking a lucrative and potentially rewarding singing career.
The discussion at the table was particularly effervescent because we had two distinctly opposite positions. Some of us thought the contestant that split lacked ethics and the rest of us thought that the one that refused to separate and lost the opportunity to progress was silly. As I reflected on the scenarios it made me think... what would I have done if I were in that situation?
It is human to feel rejected and hurt in such situations but I believe that those who know the true nature of love will suppress their personal pain and experience joy for another. There is a Chinese proverb that says: Prosperity makes friends and adversity tries them. Until we recognise the meaning of love, and are willing to let others fly on our wings, and until we understand that the benefit to the whole is more significant than the benefit to one, we will not maximise our potential as a people. American professional basketball player Michael Jordan demonstrates this well when he said: “I built my talents on the shoulders of someone else's talent”. Today Jordan is recognised not only as one of the greatest sportsmen ever but also as a great philanthropist, donating millions to charity including $450 million dollars for Hurricane Katrina reconstruction and assistance. This is a classic example of the French phrase Tous pour un, un pour tous (all for one, one for all) rendered by Alexandre Dumas in his classic - The Three Musketeers. The rise of one has benefitted the whole.
What would happen if instead of malicing the successful contestant her bandmates were to support and encourage her? I am happy when my friends excel for I too can share in their success. What is unfortunate is when successful individuals “forget” their peers as they become caught up with life in the fast lane. It’s fine to have money but money shouldn’t have you. Unfortunately some people develop amnesia as it relates to where they come from and only remember when they come crushing down, for nothing and no-one moves in one direction all the time.
As a people we often make the mistake of trying to climb with others on our backs when in fact what would be better is to climb alone and then reach down and help others up. Michael Jordan sums it up beautifully when he said: “To be successful you have to be selfish, or else you never achieve. And once you get to your highest level, then you have to be unselfish. Stay reachable. Stay in touch. Don’t isolate”. Too often we allow ourselves to be blackmailed and sent on guilt trips when it comes to our own success; we find ourselves apologising for achieving excellence. Could it be that our bandmates/brothers/friends have different talents which they must identify and pursue themselves? It’s fine to love singing but if you are not talented in that respect could you not support someone who is? Chances are you would be better off working with animals, children, numbers or trading in the City. Nobody is void of talent; if we take some time to reflect and develop self awareness we will discover our passion and find out what makes us tick. Sometimes it is staring us in the face but we fail to see it or we don’t acknowledge it – what do you have in your hands? There is no point trying to live someone else’ dream for it is not ours to live. Everyone must dream for himself and run his own race and sometimes it’s a lonely road.
I have a friend who tells me that I am not good at accepting compliments. He says that I tend to brush it off and change the subject. I thought about it and realised he could be right. I am not proud of that behaviour for it shows that I am not confident in my ability, I don’t recognise my value and I take no credit for my efforts. I too must stop trivialising my achievements, stop apologising for excelling and focus instead on developing and showcasing the talents I have been given. We have to recognise that it is not a bad thing to succeed. As far back as I can remember I was never happy with my success if the people I love didn’t succeed as well. I recall at the age of 11 when I passed the exam to enter high school my parents were over the moon but I was sad because all my friends had failed. I did not understand how to celebrate success in the presence of failure. Now I know better; now I understand how to experience success and in turn help others to achieve. Don’t apologise for your successes – make them work for the greater good!
As people who run organisations we need to consider: do we celebrate the success of others in the workplace? Do we foster and encourage a culture where people are free to be creative? Do we grant our workers autonomy - holding them accountable and responsible for their actions? Business owners must be able to recognise talent and nurture it so that individuals, as well as their businesses, can thrive. Don’t spend time sweating the small things - micro-managing people, punishing failures. Focus instead on tapping into your employees’ innate abilities and find ways to discover and appeal to their passions. There is a Ugandan Proverb that says: A leader's handbag is never completely empty. What tools do you have in your bag to help you unleash creativity and motivate your staff? Do you compete with or are threatened by your staff’s ability? Take time to get to know your employees and discover their hidden talents. How many times have we seen organisations hiring new workers when individuals with the required skills sets are already employed within the organisation?
There is a Jamaican proverb that says: If yuh back monkey im wi fight tiga (literally, if you back a monkey he will fight a tiger) - when people are supported and encouraged they will climb mountains hitherto unimagined. Building a strong support network around you provides a safety net so that if you fall, there is someone strong enough to catch you. One person can’t have a party so why would you want to be alone at the top? Life is a cycle, indeed a circle – going around and coming around again; we don’t know where we will be tomorrow. Help people to shine and develop their talents; chances are, the light they emit will bring you warmth and brighten your way. There is a Greek proverb that states: a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. Leave a legacy! Don’t focus on what you as an individual stand to benefit; after all you are being shaded by trees planted by people you have never met.