I have a friend who works in government and has been impacted by the election. The actions of the new president have caused an explosion of pressure in the office where he works. Everyone, including him, is overwhelmed. In the midst of the chaos, he shares two important observations. They appear to be independent. I think they are related and they tell us something about the nature of positive leadership and the pursuit of the common good.
“Through the vicissitudes of the last few days, I have been especially impressed by the example of my office director. I see her connecting with each member of the team. I see her making jokes at just the right moment to help peel back the tension. I see her listening carefully to each team member’s concerns. I see her insisting that what we express what really matters. She is constantly reminding us of who we are and what we’re about. I am grateful for a boss who is a leader.
Yesterday the pace at work continued to be intense. I received an assignment late on Tuesday to assemble a series of papers for yesterday afternoon. When I got to work in the morning yesterday, I realized I couldn’t do everything I needed to do in the time I had left. I needed help.
I wrote to my friend Henry and asked if he could help me. He wrote back almost immediately and just asked what the timeline was. About 30 minutes later, he sent me a much improved draft of something I sent him. That draft then went through multiple edits by various parties, and I was able to turn that and several other papers in before I left. There were several people who helped me throughout the day, but I feel especially grateful for Henry’s immediate response early in the process. It isn’t the first time he has helped me out; I feel grateful for the many times he has helped me, including my first day on the job. His example makes me want to be a better friend and colleague.”
We begin at the end. In the chaos, my friend knew he could not do what was required. So he does something unconventional. He asks for help even though others are also under pressure. He is exercising the courage to be vulnerable. Henry immediately responds as he has done previously. This may be because Henry is a mature human being with a servant mentality. Yet there may be another variable operating.
Under pressure, the office manager is also behaving unconventionally, connecting with each person, relieving tension, listening to and further surfacing each concern, encouraging expression and clarifying the collective purpose. This is so unconventional and valuable that people, like my friend, notice.
She is a positive leader nurturing a positive culture. Note that my friend says that everyone helps and Henry’s example, in particular, makes my friend want to be a better friend and colleague. He is feeling attracted to be a positive contributor in a positive organization. Henry gives to him and he is willing to give to others; this is called generalized reciprocity.
Could it be that the office manager is creating a positive culture and people are able to exercise the courage to be vulnerable and operate in pursuit of the common good? As they do, they begin to believe it is okay to ask for help and they believe it is okay to give help, knowing that others will help them when they need it. In a system of generalized reciprocity, each person is willing to sacrifice for another, knowing that, when in need, they will receive the same, not necessarily from the person they served (conventional reciprocity), but from some other member of the positive organization.
- Who in our organization is like the office manager?
- If positive leadership can happen in a government office, where else can it happen?
- Why do people in a positive organization function better?