George Papandreou. One would guess he’s a popular subject amongst the internal comings and goings of the G20 and perhaps synonymous with the words “uncertainty” and “instability” within his own country. But given the most recent developments in Greek politics, it is no wonder that the Prime Minister of Greece is scorned by almost anyone that you may speak to on the subject. (One Greek voter noted that, “What happened this week was a disgrace.”)
He is in the unlucky position in the middle of two moving forces. On one hand he is working towards the future of the people of his country. On the other, he is dealing with the future of the European Union, and potentially in a broader context, the short-to-medium term future of global markets.
It is the dichotomy between what’s best for the individual and what’s best for the collective, and, how to make decisions according to the highest good of each, that I would really like to explore. Of course, the example of Greece and the EU is not something we would add to our task list of things to solve on Thursday, but how you as an employee (individual) interact with your organisation (collective) is something we do on a daily basis.
For example, I am working closely with the president of a national professional association. For the needs of this article his name is James. Soon he will need to make one of the most challenging decisions in his career. As president of the association, he is in the apparently fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate) position of setting his own annual salary. A part of this process is balancing his own financial needs with what he thinks he is worth in the private sector and the salary the association is physically able to afford. If he chooses the salary that he can’t afford to live on, then will he be able to continue to work at the organisation that he loves and is committed to? On the other hand, if he chooses a larger pay package, then how can he say that he is committed to the health of the organisation? Though this example is directly related to money there are many other areas where this type of choice could come into play, for example team goals are out-of-sync with the organisations or something simple as taking a day off when you’re not really sick.
So what can support us as we participate in healthy decision making for the individual and the whole? As we continue to become more aware of our impact on our shared systems and organisations, what can we use as a guide to balance us?
Awareness of multiple identities. We need to be aware of our individual needs and requirements as separate from the organization. They may align, they may not, but we need to have the clarity to be able to distinguish the two.
Courage and Patience. When we begin to see that we might ‘lose’ individually, we need to have the courage to begin to step into these seemingly ‘nightmare’ scenarios. Working with James, as he started exploring the unthinkable scenario of no longer working for the organization he loves, he started to see the world may not end; it may in fact get a whole lot better as he let other scenarios into the realm of possibility. Our reflexive response will most often be fear of the unknown. Can we cultivate curiosity in the face of fear? Can we breathe and have patience to look again at what the situation is really offering us?
Recognize our own identity as part of the whole. If I identify as part of the whole then I can see that ultimately, a decision that serves the whole, even if it doesn’t serve my individual needs immediately, will ultimately serve me as well? This is a difficult concept to live with during a normal day job, particularly when decisions on the line impact my ability to feed my family. Yet, what are the alternatives?
We should know that if we err on the side of our self (individual), and if these solutions do not also serve the needs of the organisation, then it would be only a matter of time before we find ourselves back where we started, having wasted our own time in the process.
It is persuading our individual identities and our sneaky egos that this is the case, that is our challenge. And yet, if we truly identify as a part of our organization or community we know we are only fooling ourselves to chose anything that doesn’t benefit both the individual and the organisation.
This is the fundamental challenge that George faces. A balancing act of working in the best interests of Greece while simultaneously adhering to the expectations of the global community. And this is the situation we will continue to face as we raise our awareness of our interconnectedness and our individual actions on the whole.
Some questions to ask if you are going to consider your situation:
- Do I recognise myself as part of a larger community or organisation in the business that I am employed by?
- What supports me to be able to see the whole?
- Can I have the courage to look beyond my individual, immediate needs and circumstances?
Cari has been working with multiple clients on their ability to align interests of the individual and the collective. Email her to find out how you may be able to do the same at your workplace.