The Pope’s thumb: Perspectives on management
I often hear complaints from managers that employees just don’t ‘get’ it. They don’t understand the challenges the organisation faces, the industry we find ourselves in or the basics of cash flow.
Sometimes it is a communication problem. We fail to communicate what matters. We assume employees will know or will want to find out, while their attention is elsewhere. Whatever the reason, however, it turns out that all is not lost.
In her book Becoming, Michelle Obama describes how she and her husband took their two daughters on one of Barack’s foreign trips. They visited the Kremlin and met the Russian President, the Vatican and met the Pope, and Ghana where they passed through the ‘Door of No Return’ — the departure point for countless Africans sold into slavery.
The children were eight and 11. Would it mean anything to them? What would they absorb? Obama later read the essay her younger daughter, Sasha, wrote: ‘What I Did on My Summer Vacation’. She had written, ‘I went to Rome and I met the Pope. He was missing part of his thumb.’
Obama had not noticed the Pope’s thumb or whether there was something missing, but this is what an observant eight-year-old had brought back. ‘Her view of history,’ Obama writes, ‘was, at that point, waist high.’
Our employees do not notice what we notice or think about what we think about. Their view is ‘desk high’, ‘factory-floor level’ or customer focused. Rather than complain or expect employees to see things from your perspective, take time to understand your organisation from their perspective. What do they see? What are the questions they are asking? I guarantee that you will learn things that will challenge and encourage you.
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