Ibrahim Al Yafi | Partner
5th May, 2020
Two colleagues were having a conversation and expressing their frustration with their organizational leadership strategy, or lack of, during this pandemic crisis. The discussion veered off to examples of bad strategic decisions. One of them said: “there is so much potential in this organization. I wish our leadership could just stop for one second to see it and capitalize on it”.
Are you one of the people in this conversation? Or at least do you relate to it?
Is the leadership wrong and the colleagues right? Maybe! … Or Is it the other way round? Maybe! … Or is it a bit of both? Again maybe!
I worked for 10 different organizations in a span of 29 years. Every time I join an organization, I hear a utopian story about it. I then choose to build on that story and rewrite my own version of it. In my version, I include how wonderful this place is for me and how wonderful I would be for it. Soon enough though, and without fail, I uncover many issues and understand that the honeymoon period is over. This scenario was repeated ten times. Each time I left one organization, I hoped I would find my utopia in the next one. Admittedly, my hope waned the last couple of times. However, until today, I still cannot entirely let go of that dream. Having had many conversations with friends, family members, and colleagues, I discovered that my experience was not unique. Almost every single person I spoke to could relate to my story. I could see the look of crushed dreams on their faces. Most of us are reasonable, practical people, and as such, we decide to deal with reality: Work utopia, like any kind of utopia, probably does not really exist, so we jump into the daily grind, work hard, and try to compensate by creating our own materialistic utopia. This path, however, brought me mixed emotions: 20% happiness and 80% sadness, demotivation, frustration, anger, and aloofness. Deep inside, I just was not able to accept this reality and could not really let go of my work utopia dream, … until recently.
I wondered why so much of the emotions I felt in my chosen path were negative: I have built a good career for myself, I am financially comfortable, I have a nice family, and I drive a luxury car. By the looks of things, I should be happy. I was reaping material benefits, but with no real satisfaction. There were always better material things out there that I was not able to get, and it made what I had achieved seem puny. But, with research and the help of great thinkers who wrote about this, I discovered that my problem laid in my expectations: I wanted utopia, yet life handed me a reality filled with egos, greed, and the drive of others to win at any cost. People hurt me, whether on purpose or not, and my material achievements did not seem worth the effort and the pain. I kept asking why people were so cruel and inconsiderate. And to my surprise, I was told that I hurt people too. I was flabbergasted. I, Mr. nice guy, hurt you? nasty person! Thinking about it I discovered that everyone subconsciously tries to create their own version of utopia. When they do not get it, they fight, each in their own way, thereby crushing someone else’s utopian dream. As a result, the reality we live contradicts the dream we want and expect. And like that, we enter sad land.
The utopia we all seek is sincere human connections. Unbeknownst to us, we seek that sincerity in every human encounter. Unfortunately, this high purpose gets tainted by our ego. It starts interfering with the natural flow of the human connection and redraws it using its own picture of what that connection should be. We get emotionally attached to that picture because the ego knows how to draw a very attractive picture. When others do not behave according to the way our ego drew it, frustration and disappointment set in.
Real human connection demands we accept others and tolerate their behavior. We must give the benefit of the doubt and assume the other person is well-intentioned. If the action of a person does not appear to be well-intentioned, we need to realize that this person’s ego has taken over and the person is lost in fear-based emotions. If that happens, we must let them be and not engage their ego any further. By creating that space of acceptance, their next action will most likely be less ego charged, and the chance for a genuine human connection will become better.
The real challenge is the expectations we place on life and on people. Invariably, they will fail us, and our expectations will not be met. The Indian spiritual leader, Sri Chinmoy, said peace begins where expectations end. Can you imagine life without expectations of anyone or anything? You and I will be breezing through life with such lightness, accepting all that is, and being in tune with it all. Yet, I cannot get myself to stop expecting. Expectations motivate me. They drive me to achieve, and I like that. My personal wisdom differs a little. I think it is ok to expect, but I should not put too much emotional value on my expectations. This way if my expectations come true, I will be happy. If not, it will be easier for me to accept and approach them with sensibility. I can simply change my expectations, modify them, or drop them altogether. The choice is mine, and when I realize that, I get a sense of freedom accompanied by a sense of peace. That is the utopia we need!
Let us go back to the colleagues we started off with. They are both afraid of the uncertain times they are facing. They might be worried about losing their jobs and their ability to meet their financial obligations. They might be frustrated with the lack of work and might not know what to do. They might …. The list can go on forever. But what would happen If one of them recognized he was worried? He could think that everyone else was also worried, including the colleague he is having this discussion with and the management team in their organization. He would then realize (and hopefully share that with his colleague) that he expects management to salvage the situation for him. Is this reasonable? Not really! Both colleagues need to be more realistic and reconsider their expectations in a more constructive manner. Here is how the conversation might continue in a more positive tone:
Colleague 1: You know what? I think we are all afraid and worried about these unprecedented times. No one knows what is going to happen and neither does our management.
Colleague 2: You are right! Let us cut them some slack. If you and I were in management, chances are we would be panicking and worrying about the future of the organization and the hard decisions we may have to take.
Colleague 1: True! I am sure they are doing their best to figure out what to do. Maybe we should get in touch with them and offer our assistance. I have some ideas worth sharing, and they might help our organization out. Do you mind if I discuss them with you?
Colleague 2: Not at all! Please do! I got some ideas of my own. Let us put them together in a nice presentation and offer them to our management.
Notice how the energy has shifted in the discussion. It started out with blame. However, when one of the colleagues recognized his egotistic fear and became more conscious of the reality they were in, he became empathetic towards everyone involved. In fact, he helped his colleague do the same. The focus of the discussion shifted to finding solutions. This made them both relax, feel free of their fear, and move into positive action. Will they come up with good ideas? They may or they may not. Will management implement their ideas? It may or it may not. The one sure thing here is that they have built a real human connection with each other. If they come through with their presentation and offer their assistance, they would also have built a real human connection with their management.
In hard times, what we look for is the comradery that yields human connection and moral support. That is the utopia we need!
*According to Wikipedia, A utopia is an imagined community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens.
About the Author
Mr. Ibrahim Al Yafi is a partner with Meirc Training & Consulting. He holds a bachelor of science degree in engineering management from the University of Missouri Rolla, USA and a master of business administration with emphasis on strategic management and international marketing from Southern Illinois University, USA. Ibrahim is a senior certified professional by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM-SCP). In addition, he is an associate certified coach (ACC) by the International Coach Federation (ICF).More