In his inaugural address in January 1961, President John F Kennedy said:
“Ask not what your country can do for you. Rather ask what you can do for your country”
and that resonates especially this week.
The unpleasant rhetoric and constant whinging and moaning of people having their 15 minutes of fame on the radio or TV recently led me to recall the experiences of my grandfather who, in the 1870s, was sent by his parents to England from Poland, at the age of 15, to escape the prevailing persecution.
Unescorted and unable to speak English, he travelled by cart, train and eventually a ship, with a label attached to his coat bearing an address in Manchester where some relations lived, having come to England a few years before.
Miraculously, he arrived safely, survived and made a new life in this country. When I knew him, he was a voracious reader, had taught himself English as well as Hebrew, Latin and Greek, and was making a somewhat tenuous living as a tailor.
In all his 80-odd years he paid his taxes, never asked the state for anything and, indeed, never expected anything.
He was an intensely fulfilled individual who had survived through his own efforts and had made a happy life in this country, having married and raised a family of five children.
A recent broadcast by a “community” leader complained that the state was not helping them and that they needed more assistance. My grandfather would have been totally bemused by this; what can the state do to help people if they don’t make an effort to help themselves first?
Agreed there is a proportion of people for whom the state can and must give succour and aid and that is both self-evident and necessary. That is why we pay our taxes.
If we consider the situation in business, much the same criteria apply. While it is right and proper to employ a proportion of disadvantaged people, it can be very depressing to employ people who spend their time constantly complaining and in “something needs to done about it” mode, is toxic and corrosive for other members of staff.
We need to give people the freedom to express themselves, to encourage initiative and decision making and to ensure that if anything goes awry, then it is looked upon as a learning experience rather than a case for reprimand.
In the end we must get away from the “it’s my right” syndrome and encourage the “it’s my responsibility” approach.
If you would like to know how this can be accomplished just read “Turn The Ship Around” by David Marquet. He radically changed the way in which his US Navy submarine was managed from Leader/Follower to Leader/Leader and cut through all the morass of line responsibility that hampered the way that the ship was run.
The simple mantra was to eliminate the “What do you want me to do….?” and replace it with “I intend to…..”. In other words people took responsibility rather than waiting to be told what to do. The result? Most effective ship in the Navy.
Read the book. It could radically change your leadership life.
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