Saturday, October 22, 2011

10-Year Old Murderer

Making headlines a number of years ago, a ten-year old and an eleven-year old were accused of dropping a five-year old out of a fourteenth-floor window, because he wouldn't steal candy for them. One analysis says that the pre-adolescents don't think about consequences and the effect that this would have on their lives. They were only concerned with today. They didn't get what they wanted NOW so they took action that seemed appropriate for that moment. Living in a violence-filled ghetto, they assume they won't live very long so they best make the most of today. Others thinking this same way is what created the societal norms that made this seem "okay" to those two boys. They learned this live-for-today attitude from their elders.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I don't think I'll live long, I better make the most of the day by "eating" instead of "being eaten". This perpetuates the emotional, physical and spiritual destruction making it more likely that I won't live long. It therefore reinforces the "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow I may die" attitude. It's all about me. I don't care about anyone else. You're on your own. I'll take more risks and am likely to kill myself or compel someone else to kill me. My prophecy of my short life is fulfilled.

It's easy to fulfill a downward direction prophecy. If I predict I'll run into the door, I won't need any help doing that.

Likewise, the culture in our companies are also self-fulfilling. If my bosses believe employees aren't trustworthy, I can prove them right. If I believe bosses are out to cheat me, I'll give them an opportunity to treat me "unfairly" through some aggressive act that will put them on the spot. I'll be looking out only for "number one" and only interested in collecting my paycheck and "blowing this popsicle (tm) stand". I will appear uncommitted, disengaged and therefore not worthy of any special treatment, bonuses, etc. Chances are the company culture will reinforce my self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, an upward direction prophecy can't be fulfilled on our own. It's easy to have the spiraling down culture as in the previous paragraph. It's harder to have a spiraling up culture. If we set high expectations for our employees or our bosses, they have to cooperate. We can create an environment, a culture, an atmosphere that will encourage the meeting of those expectations. We need to constantly be pointing up. We need to provide opportunities for people and teach them how to look beyond today or this paycheck but to help create job security by helping make our customers succeed and the company succeed. However, we cannot force someone to meet these expectations. We can only coach them as a group and as an individual.

No one can fulfill an upward prophecy alone. I might have a prophecy that I'll be a star, my one-man business will be worth $20 million and I can raise a billion dollars in charitable giving. However, I can't do it alone. I can act accordingly and work hard to try to make it happen, but I can't make it happen. I can only be ready for the opportunity and create the opportunities for others to excel too. Elizabeth Warren recently chastised the million- and billionaires for acting like they had created their own wealth without anyone else's assistance.

Therefore, if we want our businesses to be on the upward trajectory, we need to set the right vision that will get people to look ahead. We need to create the culture that reinforces the right behavior, and not the destructive behavior that's so, so easy to do. A culture of collaboration is one of the ways. If that's what you want, watch for the traditional business practices that hinder that culture (and there are a few like individual performance appraisals).

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