The suffocating strangle-hold on truth and fact is often applied by a well-intended grappler who goes by the name of conventional wisdom. As the name implies, conventional wisdom assumes and claims ownership of the truth in a manner that its ideas become so accepted that they go unquestioned. Millions of people once believed that the Earth was flat, for example, and this fallacy was connected to another erroneous instinct that Earth is also the center of the universe. But they were wrong! Conventional wisdom is often wrong!
Wrongheaded comments that sound authoritative, but lack validity are not confined to our past. Errors, omissions, ignorance and nonsense continue to be propagated by conventional wisdom. Have you ever heard parental warnings to children not to become chilled or wet because they may catch a cold? Conventional wisdom has not realized that the common cold is caused by viruses; most commonly, the rhinovirus. It fails to realize that one can become soaking wet, but not “catch a cold” as long as he or she stays away from other people who have a cold.
Then there is the popular notion that overweight people are just lazy and have no self-discipline. The naïve conventional wisdom is once again ignorant to facts. It remains unaware of evidence showing that people’s metabolisms are wildly variable and there are genes for obesity, as well as intestinal flora that can make one fatter.
Dental professionals around the world battle with the conventional wisdom that teaches if your gums bleed when flossing, stay away from the bleeding area and let it heal. Don’t irritate “bad gums,” it teaches. On the contrary, bleeding gums is almost without exception, a symptom of trapped bacteria. Gingivitis can only be reversed by thorough brushing and flossing, especially around the bleeding site. Just because millions of people believe a foolish thing, doesn’t make it any less foolish.
Relevant to our discussion, fallacious conventional wisdom regarding happiness and workplace satisfaction is also alive and well. “Take care of yourself because if you don’t, no one else will,” many will warn. ‘Wisdom’ hardly seems the proper word because if you think about it, conventional wisdom simply means ‘what everybody thinks.’ Maybe Mark Twain had it right when he said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” For many of us, gazing out over the competitive landscape and considering our own narrative, looking out for number one may appear to be prudent. Let’s not be too hasty however, in snuggling up with this piece of conventional thought. The human mind and its processing abilities are not perfect. It is wired for surviving and not for thriving. It has evolved to be efficient but not accurate. Consequently, without intention, we tend to give more weight to information that confirms our assumptions and prejudices, while dismissing information that would call them into question. This is known as confirmation bias and is responsible for much heresy. Because we assume and because we have accepted that caring for others and affecting the lives of those we work with is in vain, does not mean it is true.
We are also a species that clings to the status quo. We reach conclusions that justify and maintain current conditions. We repel anything that has potential to disrupt accepted patterns and behaviors. The competitive, dog-eat-dog working-world you behold may be your status quo, but that does not mean it ought to be maintained. The ubiquitous symptoms of discontent and frustration reveal the futility of such a philosophy. As you consider the second commitment to personal leadership – affect the quality of others’ lives – note how us humans are irrationally influenced by the first information we receive. What you hear first about a given subject becomes the biased point of reference determining and often distorting how we process all subsequent data. If you were told or advised to look out for yourself first, you are irrationally drawn to that conclusion and without realizing it, will not likely be convinced otherwise. Conventional wisdom is persuasive. But, when you push aside any notion to be selfish and compete for the biggest piece of the pie and instead focus on boosting the working day of others, a warm flow of healthy teamwork begins to circulate throughout the workplace offering fresh, revitalizing air.
THE SEXINESS OF TEAMWORK
At its core, teamwork dispels the notion of selfish pursuits and individualism. It debunks any idea of looking out for number one. Flowing through the veins of healthy teamwork is a desire and responsibility to positively affect the quality of life for those you work and interact with daily. If you are to buy into teamwork and expect its bounty of rewards and fulfillment, you must first understand this component of personal leadership. Ziglar said it best when he taught, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help others get what they want.”
Sadly, the term ‘teamwork’ has been so flippantly used, inserted in its wrongful context and watered down in meaning so often, that it has lost its potency as a concept and philosophy, reduced to nothing more than a buzzword. Once understood and freed from the misappropriation it has received over the years, you will understand the profound injustice we as a society have inflicted upon the concept of teamwork. The beauty and seduction of teamwork is that when in proper operation, people care as much about your success as they do their own. Despite the proclaimed dark side of humanity, people have the tendency to do more for people they care for than they will do for themselves. Your knee jerk reaction may be to dismiss the truth of this. If so, consider your family. Would you do more for your children or your parents than you would for yourself? Chances are, you can think of many times when you went out of your way, despite feeling tired or unmotivated to prepare lunch, run an errand, assist with a chore or perform a kind act that if it was for you, you simply would have opted out. But although it took effort and will, you stepped up to plate because you cared on a level for that family member or friend more than yourself. This is the highest pinnacle of functioning teamwork and at the base of this mountain is your realization that it is your responsibility and privilege to positively affect the quality of other’s lives.
Before we go further, pause, turn your focus inward and ask yourself, “How would my workplace be different if I did not work there?” What pleasantries would be missing from the company-culture table if your chair was vacant? Can you easily be replaced because all you bring to work are working skills? When you exercise personal leadership, you bring more than your set of hands to work. You find ways to encourage, praise, and recognize those around you. In fact, your influence as a leader will grow in proportion to your willingness to show you care by offering sincere credit, validation and cooperation. If you can imagine a workplace where people are as invested in your success and happiness as you are yourself, then you will have understood the ideals of teamwork. Before we arrive at this pinnacle of healthy teamwork however, mindsets and workplace behaviors need someone to serve as a model. Unfortunately, few seem willing to be vulnerable and bold enough to assume leadership here and be that strong team player who demonstrates how to place emphasis on others’ success as much as they do their own. I can think of no better person to serve this role at your workplace than you! Once selfless behaviors such as cooperation and concern replace competition and apathy, teamwork suddenly becomes sexy again.
FEEL GOOD BY DOING GOOD
The Biblical story of Cain and Abel as told in the book of Genesis contains a reference to the phrase “my brother’s keeper.” It is generally understood to mean being responsible for the happiness or wellbeing of a sibling or, by extension, for other human beings in general. Cain, who is quoted as having made this statement, asserted that caring for others was not his responsibility. The take away that is often gleaned from this story is that people do or ought to have such a responsibility to care for and watch over their fellow human beings. Whether you buy into the credibility of the actual Old Testament story or not, there is something within this age -old teaching that deserves further exploration.
The question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is rooting up more than the notion of helping others. It really points to a responsibility for the well-being of those within your sphere of influence. This kicks up the level of kindness and care required from you to a higher level of commitment. Of course, the most exceptional and most influential leaders among us would have no problem accepting such a commitment. As for the masses of people who suffer from the Monday-Friday Syndrome however, they would likely not embrace such an ideology with open arms. Sadly, the majority are heeding the loud voices of conventional wisdom and focusing on being their own keeper, which seems challenging enough. It is my hope that you will realize that helping and showing kindness to others are not simply only good for the receiver, and good as seen through the theory lens of niceness, but also will make you happier and healthier too. Adding quality to the lives of those who share your workplace, job responsibilities and work mission connects you to others, creating stronger and healthier work cultures thereby building a happier society for everyone. Few seem to realize that feeling good begins with doing good!
I have often written and spoken on how positive influence has a reciprocation component that in the end serves you as well as those you inspire. Adding quality to a co-worker’s day involves directly focusing goodness towards a specific individual rather than a general splash of good vibes and energy. Both are essential responsibilities of leaders, with or without a position of authority. The cool part to extending goodness is that it can be as simple as a pat on the back, a single spoken word of encouragement, a smile, a good morning greeting or a personal expression of appreciation. One does not have to be creative or look deep to find opportunities to refuel someone’s energy. This assertion of being kind, generous and nice is more than mother’s intuition of soft, warm and fuzzy jazz. It is backed and decreed by a bevy of scientific research on happiness.
Happiness experts such as Dr. Lyubomirsky emphasize that altruistic actions are not options for happiness but rather essential mandates for those desiring sustained contentment. Helping others has been linked in several studies to increased life satisfaction, providing a sense of meaning, feelings of competence, elevating moods and reducing stress.
The speculation that giving and being nice leads to greater happiness has been around for centuries but only recently has it been scientifically proven. In a 2005 study, for example, participants were instructed to perform five new acts of kindness on one day per week over a six-week period. No matter the scope or magnitude of the act, they experienced a surge in happiness and well-being, compared to control groups.
In a more recent study, one group of participants were given money with instructions to spend on someone else or donate to charity. Participants from another group were given the same amount of money and told to spend it on themselves in any manner they desired. In follow-up assessments, those who spent the money on others or donated to charity experienced greater happiness than who made purchases for themselves. Reaffirming the point made earlier that any kind gesture elevates happiness, in this study the amount of money spent did not affect the level of happiness generated. It only mattered if the act was selfish or altruistic.
As our knowledge about the science of happiness increases we understand more completely how putting others first and investing in the well-being of others automatically situates us for more enjoyable working days and fulfilled lives. Feel good hormones such as serotonin and oxytocin have a rebound effect on helping others. Not only does the receiver enjoy a flood of happiness but the giver as well. Anecdotally, you have likely experienced this in your own personal life. For many years, it was thought that human beings only did things when they received something back return. Recent advances in neuroscience technology and insight have shown that when we give or help, the same parts of the brain light up as if we were receiving ourselves! Giving to others and helping others activate the reward centers of our brains, eliciting feel-good sensations. It suddenly makes sense why the poorest team players in any organizations seem to have the biggest frowns and the highest rates of job dissatisfaction. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his famous essay on the topic of compensation, wrote, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself….”
At the heart of healthy teamwork is powerful leadership and the heart of a leader beats to a rhythm of helping others and focusing on the quality of their days, not just his own. Without service to others, leadership and effective influence are impotent. Kindness, empathy and service to others serve as glue, connecting individual happiness to wider community and workplace health. Giving to others connects people by allowing individual members of a staff to relate one to the other.
Because kindness and caring seem to be contagious, when others witness kindness or thoughtfulness in action, or are on the receiving end of kindness, it inspires them to be kinder in turn. In this way, kindness spreads from one person to the next, influencing the behaviour of each other. Your model of service becomes an alternative mode of action to the typical self-centeredness of the average workplace. Kindness really is the key to creating a happier, more trusting working environment where both the employee and employer feel like they are winning.