And now let us turn to a slightly more challenging type of work-neighbor, the people we work with and for—our colleagues.
No doubt about it, we’ve all made some of the best friends of our lives at work and met people we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy, but like them or not, these people are absolutely essential to our organizations and to our success as individuals. We’ve all had the experience of trying to cope when a critical person is out sick or a function shuts down—especially when it’s payroll or IT. Just as when we break our little toe, we suddenly realize how much we needed all five of them to walk smoothly after all.
People in the movie business have absorbed this lesson very well. That’s why at the end of every film, the list of credits goes on and on and includes everyone even the chauffeurs, caterers and accountants. It’s not as though each person demands his or her place on the scroll, with an urgent, ‘Pay attention to me!’ but each is there because every member of the cast and crew wants their collective contribution acknowledged. They know how critical each of them is to the quality of the final product whether or not they appear personally on the silver screen.
Keanu Reeves, the star of the Matrix trilogy, made quite a dramatic gesture a few years ago to acknowledge his crew. He took $80 million of his own earnnings and distributed it to the special effects team and costume designers who worked with him on those films because he thought they were the ones who deserved the real credit for his success.
But fundamentally, gratitude is an attitude not necessarily a tangible reward. Elbert Hubbard, who founded the Roycroft community of craft workers and artists in 1895, put it this way, “Each worker, even the most humble, calls it ‘our shop.’ Happy is the man who works each day with loyal, loving friends who are an extension of himself.”
We need look no further than The Book of Exodus for a story of two such “loyal, loving friends” who played an essential part in Salvation History.
“So Joshua did as Moses told him: he engaged Amalek in battle after Moses had climbed to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur. As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight. Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.” (Exodus 17:8-13)
We all know Moses and Aaron very well—they’re among the headliners of the Old Testament. But, Hur? He appears in this story then disappears. If Hur were in the movies, he’d be way down in the credits. But without Hur, the plan of Salvation would not have taken this next step forward.
We all work among similar extensions of ourselves and if we can remember to think of them that way, our joy at work can’t fail to increase.
But how often I’ve failed to do just that! But if I could pick one day in my career to live over, it would be the one in 1990 when I was the General Manager of the Chicago branch office of a San Francisco-based advertising agency. We’d just won the advertising equivalent of an Oscar for our work and received a statue to commemorate the achievement. The next day as our Creative Director and I were sitting in his office looking at the statue, I had a bright idea.
Because he was the head of the Creative department, I suggested that he keep the statue in his office for a week, and then with his thanks, pass it along to someone who had helped make his work successful. Then she would keep it for a week and pass it along in gratitude to someone who had helped her, and so on. In the course of the year, everyone in the agency would have had
the chance to enjoy the honor that award represented in his or her very own office. It’s a nice idea, isn’t it?
He looked at me and said, “No, the award is mine.”
But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is what I did next. Nothing, I’m ashamed to say. I didn’t contradict him. I didn’t try to persuade him. I just let it go and became an accessory to the “sin of ingratitude,” as St. Ignatius called it, while my co-worker detached himself from the vine.
All work is harder and unhappier when it has to be accomplished by scores of severed branches scattered all over the ground. But when we stand up in gratitude and acknowledge the contributions of our colleagues, even giving credit away that we might justifiably keep for ourselves, we reattach ourselves to others. Gratitude quickly begets gratitude and you’ll see others follow your example—wounds healing and cooperation increasing in surprising places. So tomorrow, thank a boss, a peer or a subordinate for something he or she has done for you and you’ll help build a culture that lets joy to enter the workplace.
This post is an excerpt from a talk given by Lisa Fortini-Campbell author and adjunct Professor of Management at the Kellogg School of Management