Like every American, and folks around the world for that matter, I was stunned and mortified by the shootings last week in Tucson. Perhaps it struck me a bit harder than most since I lived in Tucson for several years, just a mile or two from the scene of the horror, and some of my kids still live there.
Five days after the shootings there was an event on the campus of the University of Arizona, eulogizing the victims and honoring the people who had taken selfless actions to save lives. Regular readers know that I am no fan of Barack Obama, but the fact is that he gave a great speech – his finest hour as President in my opinion. Nonetheless, after the event the media – primarily the old guys like me on Fox News – were scathing in their criticism of the crowd at the event. Most of the people attending the event were students at the U of A and many in the media thought they should have been more somber, a lot quieter, behaving less as though they were at a college pep rally. The critics missed the point completely, and demonstrated a disappointing lack of understanding of human nature and what drove those young people.
Two of my sons were at the event, and I spoke to both of them often throughout the week. Like everyone in Tucson the young people were shocked, saddened and confused by the violence of that Saturday, but young people cannot be kept down for very long. They tend to believe that there is always a pony in there somewhere. After a few days, their attention had turned away from the shooter and the victims and toward the heroes. Kids at the U of A were fiercely proud of the spotlight that shone on the University Medical center and the U of A doctors who seemingly worked miracles to bring the congresswoman back to life. They were even prouder of Daniel Hernandez, one of their own, a student at the University of Arizona who rushed into the fray and is credited with saving the congresswoman's life.
In his speech the president of the U of A described Tucson as very much like a small college town in spite of its size, and he is right. One of my sons has a roommate who was one of the first responders who tended to the wounded all that terrible Saturday morning, and my other son works for the Chick Fil A just down the street that stepped up and fed all of the law enforcement and medical folks who spent the day at the scene. The point is that every young person in Tucson did something to help, or knows someone who did something, or knows someone who knows someone …
By the time of the event the young people had found a way to focus on the positive, and to celebrate the fact that they were connected to something very good. I have seen the same in my oldest son, a sergeant in the Army airborne and a veteran of two Afghanistan tours and an Iraq. He and his fellow soldiers have a remarkable ability to absorb the blows and mourn the losses quickly, then shift their focus to the heroes, and to celebrate their membership in something they can be proud of.
In the midst of these events last week I came across an article from the Gulf News, in the UAE, that reads like a lot of boilerplate management articles on the subject of dealing with employee burnout. The author suggests you, "insist that everyone in the office breaks for lunch, have the company cafeteria serve healthy meals, organise off-site activities, organise family days, encourage optimal time-management practices, provide encouragement for physical fitness through gym discounts or organize company sports teams." All of this in an effort to achieve "work-life balance", which seems to be based on an assumption that work is onerous and stressful but necessary, while life away from work is happy and good.
It occurred to me that us old guys who are generally in charge of things must be particularly bad leaders and managers, as a group, to take young people so eager to find the positive, so driven to be part of a team they can be proud of, so willing and able to overcome terribly bad things and look to the positive, and turn them into employees who need gym discounts and company outings to keep them interested in being part of our organizations.
And it became clearer to me what Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, means when he says "leadership creates a dynamic environment that brings out & celebrates the best in each individual, allows for teams and individuals to have a meaningful role, inspires a sense of pride, and liberates everyone to achieve true success."
Bob has not come up with anything particularly new or innovative. He is merely maintaining the enthusiasm, optimism and energy we all had when we were 20, rather than systematically killing it off to the point that we need to find ways to balance crappy work with the fun and fulfillment in life too many people only find off the job.