Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands
- Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Some of my most memorable intersections with powerful vision have come in educational contexts. Perhaps it’s because there is no question that something more than money motivates educators.
Another time we were working with a large school district in the Los Angeles area. Once again we were working on exercises around the topic of vision, but this time, we had divided the group into teams: administrators, principals, psychologists, teachers, etc. One team in particular worried me: the facilities and maintenance employees. I wasn’t at all sure that these guys in their jeans and T-shirts would be able to deeply engage in discussions about vision. After all, their primary responsibilities included cutting the grass and cleaning the bathrooms.
I can be an idiot sometimes, but that’s for another chapter.
After I explained what I wanted the teams to do, I walked over to “help” this table. I kneeled down and said in my best consulting voice, “So, what have you got for me?”
The head of the department said, “Well I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot over the past twenty-five years,” and the rest of the guys around the table chuckled. I assumed he was having hard time trying to figure out this vision thing, so I continued, “Well, tell me what you have been thinking.”
To this day, I still carry a scrap of paper in my wallet on which I’ve written what that man said next:
“We work to create and maintain an environment that inspires greatness.”
As he repeated that sentence (that glorious sentence) the laughter around the table returned, and stories started spilling out.
“Yeah, yeah, we don’t just plant flowers, we create gardens that inspire greatness,” one of them said playfully.
As if trying to top that, another said, “When people use the bathroom, they will look around the facility with a pride that comes from cleanliness and working parts all in order.”
“Everywhere people look, everything they see, from the grass to the classrooms to the restrooms, will inspire them toward greatness because of the physical environment of the schools. From the teachers to the students, to the parents, even the Fed-Ex guys that make deliveries on our campuses…” I was getting the picture.
Wow. After I regained my footing from having been bowled over, I stood up from my kneeling position. Then I bowed down to them.
I returned to the front of the room and told the entire group what had just happened. I said, “These guys are rock stars! If the facilities and maintenance guys can come to work every day understanding that their job is about more than trimming shrubs and cleaning toilets, that it’s up to them to create an environment that inspire greatness, then everyone in this organization should be able to figure out how to tie his or her job to the vision.
“You all ought to bow down every time you cross paths with one of these men. We are not worthy to look directly into their eyes and ought to give them sunglasses so we can pass by,” I finished with a smile.
The next time we worked with this district, the superintendent told us we had created monsters! The maintenance guys now strutted through the campuses … and well they should.
Heroes shape the culture of an organization, giving it form and substance and breathing life into it. They turn an organization into a living entity, taking it out of the “institution” category and plopping it squarely into the “organism” category.
It is good for us to think about organizations as living things, because doing so moves us away from the idea that it’s us—people—against the organization. We need to realize that the organization is the people.
The right heroes help us fight the encroaching celebrity culture that can destroy even the best organizations: that not so subtle elevation of jocks and the cheerleaders that leaves everyone else feeling like second-class citizens, minor contributors, or Page Three news.
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