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Newfoundlanders show us the way

Kindness, generosity should be present in all human connections
Residents of Newfoundland exemplify the true spirit of giving in the musical 'Come From Away.' LesPalenik/Shutterstock

By Ian Hendry

No doubt, as you spend more time in shopping malls, the words “’tis the season to be jolly,” will be the background music as you toil to find appropriate gifts for loved ones and friends. Biblically we are told “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” and parents know the experience of seeing a child’s eyes light up with excitement opening a package neatly wrapped in colourful paper.

This moment dims somewhat when the Visa bill arrives in the cold dark months that follow, but every year we seem to get in the mood to enjoy the festive season.

Last week, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the new musical “Come From Away.” Born out of Sheridan College and written by Canadians Irene Sankoff and David Hein, it tells the story of the events in Gander, Nfld., when the U.S. air space was closed to incoming traffic on Sept. 11, 2001.

Thirty-eight planes flying across the Atlantic were forced to land at Gander, a town of about 6,000 residents at the time. The crew and passengers faced confusing and conflicting information about what had happened, and why they were suddenly grounded, but not allowed off the planes.

Meanwhile, the townspeople were left to their creativity and resolve to deal with housing, feeding, and comforting 6,579 passengers. The story exemplifies the power of the human connection and the incredible kindness and camaraderie of the locals when faced with an immense problem for which they were ill-prepared.

One of the characters in the story is Beverley Bass, one of the pilots forced to land, who made history in 1986 as the first female captain for American Airlines. On seeing the play, she commented: “it’s not about the sadness of 9/11, it’s about the goodness that came out of it.”

As I reflected afterwards, Mahatma Gandhi’s words came to mind, and I wondered whether they became real for the quirky locals, many who barely slept over the course of the ordeal — “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

This week at our final monthly event of the year, our SCNetwork “community” used the theme of deepening our human connections. We reflected on how we have successfully built professional relationships that have, in some cases, morphed into personal friendships. We talked about similarities which we identified that have enabled us to create powerful networks. We talked about recognizing givers, takers and matchers as well as Adam Grant’s very interesting research, which helps to identify the type of people with whom we want to work and collaborate. We recognized that relationships are the fundamental underpinning of our success.

With this background, my interest was piqued by Harvey Schachter’s recent article citing Steven Cofrancesco who, based upon his studies on the topic, found that strategy, often considered as a scientific way of thinking, most often failed because of a failure to understand and properly manage the human emotions involved. As critical as strategy is, whether people’s actions are intentional or unintentional, he identified three primary features which explain why strategy goes wrong:

1. Some people are dishonest and deceitful and deliberately use tactics to control other people, or the process.

2. Those with hierarchical power, such as – but not exclusively – CEOs who bully and coerce others into desired positions, or connivingly exclude them from the process.

3. Those without hierarchical power – regular employees - who create alliances to forward their own positions through power, or threatening behaviour.

Cofrancesco’s interviews led him to the conclusion that people will only open up and be creative and supportive in developing strategy when they are respected and treated in a kind and benevolent fashion. But are such descriptors out of place in a high-performance , driven organization? 

It is estimated that we will spend $700-$800 billion on gift-giving this year, implying that there is a real generosity in humankind.

Our Newfoundlanders exemplified care, concern and kindness and during the commemoration ceremony on the 15th anniversary of 9/11 in Gander, a passenger, Maria Jaffe said, “you the wonderful people of Gander, and your neighbours, stood out as the best of humanity.” 

Could it be that there is a profound gap between how we treat people “inside” and “outside” of our organizations and, if so, why is that? Is it because we evaluate leadership success on “what” leaders accomplish, and minimize the importance of “how’ they accomplish it?

At the end of the day, isn’t it “who we are” and “how we treat others” that determines how many people want to deepen that human connection with us?

Christmas is a time of kindness and generosity, but don’t let this season be the only time we can participate in the gift of “giving.”  

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Ian Hendry

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