Even if you work in a mean, power-prone, greedy, polluting, unethical corporation – you can increase your positive impact. It’s for you to decide whether you’d have more leverage within that hostile environment or outside, in another position or role. The point is: you can choose to start the change right here and now.
If you stay, if you are courageous enough to endure it, you can start spreading small, positive changes. By humbly asking the right questions, the right Why’s, by suggesting alternatives, by role modeling alternatives, by doing small acts of kindness, and by displaying positive leadership.The point is: you can choose to start the change right here and now Click To Tweet
It won’t be easy probably but it could be an interesting journey. Watering dry, toxic soil to see if something positive may sprout.
You’re also free to leave and spend your energy elsewhere if you think that would increase your positive impact. This may be just as wise and courageous as staying.
There is no right or wrong
There’s no judgment, no absolute right or wrong. It depends on the situation and on you. What can you give, how much can you take? What suits you? It’s a matter of “picking your battles” as many corporate idealists did before you. (I’ll write more about corporate idealists in a later post…)
All I’m saying is: it’s simplified thinking that only charity organizations or social workers or activists have a positive impact. That’s a linear children’s story format of good and evil, where good is supposed to win. Reality is way more nuanced and complex, and way more interesting.
Some organizations with a noble purpose don’t even spread that much positive change. Charities can make people dependent instead of empowering them. They may inadvertently stimulate corruption or greed in the system they try to help.
They can’t foresee all the outcomes of their actions in a system and emergent features or side-effects may surprise them.
If a non-profit organization that drills water wells develops a workplace culture of tell-and-force (“Do as I say, or…! We know best.”), employees take their fear and anger home – spreading it wherever they go. Their total positive impact may be disputable when you deduct that discouragement, frustration, and lost potential from the water wells that were made available.
If you’re running a charity for homeless people but deep inside, you look down on them, what are you spreading? Someone will pick up what you radiate – it’s not what you do but HOW you do it – and may feel disempowered and miserable…
A capital equipment and engineering consulting firm with a positive culture, on the other hand, can have a tremendous positive impact. I love the story of Barry-Wehmiller Companies, a $1.5 billion global manufacturer. They implemented a leadership development program – guiding leaders to know themselves and to lead “people-centric” with respect for their employees.
Next, they saw the staff’s divorce rates go down. Bob Chapman, the CEO, said: “Companies don’t care about people: 7 out of 8 people are not cared for at work. Capitalism sees people as objects for success: we have a crisis of leadership. Broken lives are the result. Our goal is to create an organization where everyone matters – a culture where people discover and share their gifts and are recognized. They go home each night and have a meaningful life. Because when you’re told what to do and never asked anything – you don’t feel good about yourself and you’re not nice to your wife.”
The lower divorce rates were an emergent feature that no one had foreseen but that turned out to be beneficial for both employees and the company.
This case illustrates another point: you can make a positive difference whether you are a manufacturer, an accountant, an IT guy, a marketing girl, the janitor, the cleaner, or the CEO – instead of a saint or a social activist.
You don’t even have to be at work to increase your positive impact. We all have different roles. Spreading kindness and creating positive change can be done at home, in teams and groups, at the bus stop and in communities, whatever your role is.
Intermezzo with your Inner Voice
Yeah, nice positive thinking but I work in an aggressive for-profit organization. I endure office politics and fear. My corporation pollutes the environment and dodges taxes. I’m just an accountant, or an IT-developer, or a secretary. We outsource work to the Philippines and we pay them below-human wages. My boss is a bully. I simply have to pay my mortgage so I work here. What positive difference can I make? How do I have any positive impact at all?
Here is your inner critic with a reality check. This voice in your head is probably trying to protect you from getting hurt when you get your hopes up too high. It wants you to stay realistic. You’re not Gandhi, or Mandela, or Mother Teresa. You’re probably not doing voluntary work in underdeveloped countries. You may not work in health care, education or any other social service for the greater good. All you do is donate some money to charity once in a while. That’s all. And that’s okay. You still have a positive impact wherever you are. Thank you for the warning, inner voice.
In the meantime, simply ask your loved ones – and you’ll know how much of a difference you make. Ask your colleagues, ask your clients – and discover the same. The family, the team, the project – wouldn’t be the same without you. And while you’re at it, give it your best. Infect the others with positive vibes so they will copy you.
Cut the philosophical positive angle that everyone makes a difference by being unique. We need a fair and sustainable world. But we can hardly handle the disruptive change around us – the pace and complexity are increasing. The world seems more unjust, more violent, more stuck in capitalistic interests, and less predictable than before. We need bold solutions.
Being kind to one colleague is like pouring a drop in the ocean. I want to contribute to changes that matter.
Please zoom the lens to a wider angle. Small acts can matter in unforeseen ways. They may ripple way beyond the individual recipient of your momentary kindness. You may inspire some others to do the same and reinforce your effectiveness.
If you want to increase your positive impact, you need to be present with an open mind. Suspend judgment and acknowledge your inner critic – but don’t let it hold you back.
If you surrender to discouragement, disillusion, helplessness and victimhood – you are diminishing yourself and the positive impact you have.
That’s not a pleasant state, to say the least, and you’ll be stuck right there. Negative states lock you in while research shows that people can access more ideas, skills, creativity, and other inner resources from a positive state.
One of the most powerful questions to ask yourself in any situation that seems stuck, is: Could I be wrong?
Could you be wrong about pouring drops into the ocean? Those drops will travel in the planet’s water cycle, interacting with countless other drops on their way and changing states every so often – from ocean to cloud to ice to rain to soil to juicy plants to hungry stomachs, and so on.
“We feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if the drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of the missing drop.” Mother Teresa.
This is book post # 14 – level: ME
Leaders, employees, consultants, citizens – everyone can make a positive difference from any position, without needing permission or resources from others. This blog will help you see positive possibilities and (re)claim your positive agency. Unstuck yourself and engage others via your interaction and actions. Transform into a positive organization where people and performance thrive.
I’m blogging my next book: “Positive Power at Work – How to make a positive difference from any position.” Your feedback is appreciated!