The Search For Servant Leadership in A Chilean Mine
I’ve been following the story this week about the 33 miners trapped half a mile below the surface in the collapsed mine in Chile.
The story of the miners survival is incredible, but so too are the implications of corporate greed and the neglect of the workers safety and how we treat people as objects rather than human beings.
33 people are stuck in a space approximately 500 square feet for 18 days until a 2.3 inch drill hole was used to discover their whereabouts this week.
The miners had lost on average 22 pounds each and were on rationed peaches, milk, tuna, and crackers every other day.
The pictures of the miners and the notes of love and hope that emerged from below the earth’s crust were truly inspiring, despite the way that they got trapped to begin with.
Yet, the miners now have to wait approximately 4 months for a rescue tunnel 26 inches wide to be completed to pull them to safety.
The fear, panic and duress of being trapped 2300 feet down in 95-degree heat in close quarters for so long is something government officials, psychologists, and family members are very concerned about. They have even reached out to NASA to help them deal with the effects of the prolonged isolation.
Amazingly, when we think about how technology could help in this situation, it is not necessarily a “super-duper” drill able to dig them out in hours or minutes that is the focus here or a transporter able to beam the miners up the surface in seconds, but rather a simple tool like a ladder placed near the ventilation shaft (as was supposed to have been for safety purposes) would have enabled the miners to escape to the surface.
Now instead of the mining company having done the right thing for its workers to begin with, they are now facing a lawsuit from the families of the trapped miners and potentially bankruptcy.
This situation is reminiscent of other companies that put their profits before their workers, like we saw recently with BP that didn’t have a simple safety shut-off valve on the leaking oil well, and now they are funding a $20 billion escrow account to settle claims from the Gulf Coast oil disaster.
Plain and simple, it does not pay to skimp on worker safety.
More than that, people are not only our most important asset—as has become cliché to say, but the whole point of our interactions at work is to treat each other right.
Of course, we need and want to be productive, to improve things, to reengineer business processes, enable them with new technologies, and leave the world better from our work, but to me the true test for us as human beings is to make these contributions to our organizations and missions and at the same time not lose our basic humanity.
If the cost of an improvement or promotion is some very real bodies that we must climb over to get there, then I say we are failing the true test before us.
We can make the same gains and more by treating people with kindness and compassion—the way we would want to be treated.
Let’s not deny anyone a ladder or safety valve or even in the smallest ways mistreat our employees.
The test of leadership is how we treat people in accomplishing our goals, and the long-term effects to us from our behavior in this regard are greater than any short-term technology or process improvements we can make by dehumanizing ourselves and hurting others.
>I remember learning in religious day school that people are half spiritual beings and half animal and that it was a person’s duty (or test in life) to imbue the carnal part of our existence with spirituality.
It was nice to see a book today that brought this topic home; it is called “G-d is My CEO” by Larry Julian.
The premise of the book is that “we usually want to do the right thing, but often succumb to the short-term, bottom line demands of daily business life.”
Julian states: “The bottom line had become their G-d. It was insatiable. No matter how hard they worked, it was never enough, nor would it ever be enough.”
As I see it, people have two faces (or more) and one is their weekend persona that is family and G-dly oriented and the other is the one for the rest of the week—for business—that is driven by materialism, accomplishment, and desire for personal success.
This is where the test of true leadership comes into play.
We can and must do better in our business lives by “doing the right thing regardless of the outcome” and “expanding the definition of success from making money to making a difference.”
BUT, BUT, BUT…
We’re all experts at making excuses, why we need to be successful in business, achieve results, make lots of money, get the next promotion (and the next and the next) and that “the end justifies the means; you get to the outcome regardless of how you accomplish it”!
In Information Technology, it’s no different than in any other business function. It’s a competitive environment and most of the time, people’s raw ambitions are somewhat obscured (but still operating there) and occasionally you see the worst come out in people—not working together (like system operating in stovepipes), or worse criticizing, bad-mouthing, and even back stabbing.
As a CIO or CTO, we must rise above this and lead by a different set of principles. To this end, I like the “Servant Leadership” doctrine put forward by Julian.
In short, the servant leader, leads by example and puts people first and in essence, spiritually elevates the baser ambitions of people.
The servant leader is “one who serves others, not one who uses others. He/she “serves employees so they can serve others.”
“When we [as leaders] serve others, we help them succeed” and thereby we can accomplish the mission even better than pure individual greed ever could.
The CIO/CTO can lead people, modernize and transform the enterprise with innovation and technology, to accomplish the mission better than ever and we can do it by integrating spirituality and kindness to people into what we do every day in our working lives.
Unfortunately, IT organizations are often run not by elevating people and making them significant, but instead by running them into the ground. The mission is demanding the latest and greatest to stay competitive. The technology is changing rapidly. IT specialists are challenged to keep up with training on new hardware, programming languages, systems development and project management techniques, best practice frameworks, and so forth, The Help Desk and Desktop support people are routinely yelled at by the customers. Security and privacy issues are a constant threat to operations. IT is denigrated as a support function, whose people don’t understand the business; IT is viewed as a utility and it’s people often pushed out for outsourcing.
Truly, in this type of demanding and challenging environment, it is tough for any IT organization and its people to maintain their dignity and spirituality. But that is precisely where the CIO/CTO must lead and demonstrate humanity and care for people. The true IT leader will impose structures to create order out of chaos and in so doing elevate people as the critical asset they truly are to the organization.
Here’s some ways we can do this:
Treat all employees with respect and dignity by representing their interests in the organization, as well as abiding by at the very least minimal standards of professionalism and courtesy
Partner with the business so that it’s not us versus them, but just one big US.
Develop a meaningful architecture plan and sound IT governance so everyone understands the way ahead and is working off the “same sheet of music.”
Manage business expectations—don’t overpromise and under deliver, which leads to frustration and anger; instead set challenging but attainable goals.
Filter requirements through a “single belly button” of seasoned business liaisons, so that the rank and file employees aren’t mistreated for doing their sincere best.
Provide training and tools for people to do their jobs and stay current and understand not only the technology, but the business.
Through these and other servant leader examples, we can integrate our spiritual and material lives and be the types of leaders that not only deliver, but that we can really be proud to be.