Would you like to change the world? You can. I know, you’re not a senior manager in your company. Oprah Winfrey hasn’t called yet inviting you to appear on her show. Consider these two real-life stories, and ask if the third story could be yours.
Just the receptionist
Several years ago, a large state agency invited me to conduct a team-building session for its senior management. I got a sinking feeling as I interviewed each manager to learn what they hoped would result from the half day we’d spent together. They were a mess. In fact, they were so disorganized they couldn’t arrange a meeting for another three months.
Finally, I got a call from their new receptionist. They’d put her in charge of logistics, so she’d polled them and set a date. As they filed into the meeting room, I immediately noticed a change. As several of the executives arrived, they were talking to one another. Two were laughing at a shared joke.
I started the meeting with a team-building exercise that required the group to work together. When they achieved the goal, they erupted into a mass cheer. I then asked, “So, who was the leader during the exercise?” Everyone looked around, puzzled.
One said, “We didn’t actually have a leader.”
Another said, “We all took turns.”
“I disagree,” I said. “Here’s what I saw. Your receptionist said, ‘How about if we all move together?’ That’s important because if you remain standing in different areas, which is where you started, it’s harder to create a group plan.”
“Oh, I thought we just kind of got together,” one said.
“Then each time one of you had an idea, she said, ‘Great idea,’ or ‘What do the rest of you think?’ ” I continued, listing four times the receptionist had “led.”
“Wow, we didn’t even see it!” said one.
“There’s more,” I said. “Even when you came in the door today, you seemed different. What’s been going on?”
One by one, each of them talked about the difference the receptionist had made in the office climate — so much so they invited her to their management session, even though she was ‘just the receptionist,’ as a thank-you for arranging the logistics and in case they needed her to coordinate with their offices.
The changes the receptionist made in their work lives were subtle. She asked how their projects had gone when they returned from off-site assignments. And she greeted them so warmly one of the managers admitted to walking by her desk several times a day just to receive her genuine, “Hey there, how’s it going?”
She tranformed and led them, and they hadn’t even noticed.
A voice that matters
Some years ago, I started a newspaper column, offering how-to advice for managers and employees. Six weeks after it debuted, the paper called me and said, “You have fan mail.”
“Can you drop it in the mail?” I asked.
“There’s too much,” they said. When I got to the newspaper, I found 23 letters, leading to the start of my “Dear Abby of the Workplace” column in which I answer readers’ real-life workplace questions with solutions and strategies. The column still runs 34 years later, and I’ve compiled the “best” challenges and answers into two books.
Each week, “I’m at the end of my rope,” and “You’ve changed my life,” reader emails fill my inbox.
Your turn to change the world
Are you a hidden leader? A transformer? What are you going to do, and how? You don’t have to have the highest status or be the highest paid. You can make a difference. It’s your turn.