On Work Ethic and Role Model

Work Ethic is a subject in which Late Mr GN Sapre got me interested. In a training program which I attended he asked, “Let us talk about the stories you tell your children. Do you tell them the story of the woodcutter whose axe fell in the well?” Many participants said yes. “So what do you want your children to do when they have a problem on hand? Wait for Shankar-Parvati to notice them and offer to take out the axe?”

That question shook me up. I had never thought about impact of story-telling on work ethic.

Sapre published a book on work ethic and speaking at the publication ceremony was Dr Sarojini Vaidya. She captivated audience by her insightful speech. An author and researcher in the literary field had so much insight in work ethic, and that [quite unjustifiably] surprised me.

She told the story of a family which had employed a servant for decades. The servant had seen the children of the family grow, and move on in life. The servant was an old and faithful man. The daughter in the family was married recently and had decided to spend Diwali Festival at her parents’ home. Her parents and the old servant had been to her in-law’s town to bring her back. They travelling in bullock carts and were warned that dacoits often looted travellers on the way. Seeing a group of people riding horses at a distance and approaching the carts, the servant suggested that he should jump off the cart with ornaments and valuables. This would ensure that the dacoits would not get their loot. The master agreed and the servant got down and quickly hid in the jungle.

The family reached their destination safely but the servant did not return for two days. The discomfort was growing in the family. But on the third day the servant returned with a smile and all the valuables. ‘I quickly dug up a pit and placed these boxes in it to hide from dacoits, and I returned there the next day to retrieve. I could not locate the place where I had placed the valuables. I was very tense and worried. It took me two days to locate it. Finally I found it and here it is. I was worried whether her in-laws will believe us if they heard that we had lost all valuables of their daughter-in-law.

There is so much of unsaid, unarticulated aspect which is beyond the normal expectation of an employee who is supposed to work diligently, striving for excellence. We see flashes of such high work ethic when we hear stories of employees going beyond the call of their duty. We saw it at Taj on 26/11, and earlier we saw it when Neera lost her life when terrorists attacked the plane in Karachi. We saw it also when the nanny saved the little child in Israeli consulate in Mumbai.

Among the popular misconceptions about work ethic is that people can be trained on work ethic. Some run change management initiatives on work ethic.

Steven Covey says, “People, employees, children are not open to teaching, or influence unless they know that you genuinely care. Nothing will happen until you make the connection that starts the relationship. After all, relationships are what mentoring is all about. Mentoring comes out of Modelling the “What and Who” we are as people. Teaching, Mentoring, and Modelling are the three elements that comprise the essence of producing a common vision around which a relationship and a culture will form.” So true!

Forming [or transforming] work culture and relationships, that is to say excellent work ethic, requires role models.  

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s book “How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work” is in my opinion, the best help on this subject.

They talk of two types of languages: Internal Languages and Social Languages. The message of the book is that if we want to change the way we work then we must watch our language. We must move the Internal languages from the Language of Complaint to the Language of Commitment, from the Language of Blame to the Language of Personal Responsibility, from the Language of New Year’s Resolutions to the Language of Competing Commitments, from the Language of the Big Assumptions that Hold Us to the Language of Assumptions We Hold.
And we must move the social languages from the Language of Prizes and Praising to the Language of On-going Regard, from the Language of Rules and Policies to the Language of Public Agreement, from the Language of Constructive Criticism to the Language of Deconstructive Criticism.
In final analysis increased awareness of what and who we are and the ‘language’ we speak will create and change the work culture. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it aptly, “Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are.”   
PS: Sachin Tendulkar is a great sportsman not just because of his stupendous achievements, but also because of his work ethic and because of his being role model to many young players. For this reason, his photograph is included in this post.