Organization Development Consultant Carol Ross
When You Step Into Business
By Carol Ross
To: Future Business Leaders of the World
From: A Former Corporate Citizen
Re: Corporate Social Responsibility
When you enter business, you not only enter an organization that is designed
to make money, to earn a profit for its shareholders. You also enter into a
living community of people. Tread lightly. You have the power to make the community
alive and vibrant. You also have the power to make it whither and die, to cause
great pain while people around you figure out how to be human and make a living
at the same time.
Go about your business of managing projects, strategizing
on new product launches, motivating your sales force, compiling the numbers
before the next quarterly
report. Hire the right people and work through friction between your department’s
needs and the other department’s wants.
Through it all, remember that you are a trustee of life inside an organization.
The work environment can be the foundation for each one of us to step into
our brilliance. Or it can be the rug that has been pulled out from under us,
to make us dance in the most awkward of ways.
Our work is our lives. Most people don’t want
to admit that, because work can be painful. Not in a visceral way. But in
the deadening, dull way
that a toothache comes on, until the feeling can no longer be ignored.
What is it to be a leader? There are countless books on this, ones that take
you in a multitude of directions and after reading, you realize you have gone
around in circles, with only a slight change in latitude and longitude. Why
become a leader? Who can be a leader? Ask these questions to understand leadership.
Observe who does what and how. And observe the results, visible and written
and talked about in the company newsletter, and those not so visible but felt
and whispered in your heart. Leaders are not only seen and heard. They are
Who will you impact and in what way? How will people
feel you? Not feel about you. Feel you. Your imprint on an organization is
your legacy. People think
that you have a choice about legacy, about what people say about you after
you leave. You do. And you don’t. You have a choice about how you show
up in the workplace. You don’t have a choice about who you are, at your
There are enough brilliant strategic thinkers in business.
There are enough people who know how to “get things done.” There are enough people
who know what it’s like to fire up a sales force to meet quota. What’s
needed is what you bring to the organization as a unique human being. You might
ask, “What does that really mean?” It means finding that place
where you are “in the groove,” where your own enthusiasm sustains
not only yourself but others around you. Be bold enough to learn who you are
and play it full out.
There are management theories of organizations as living
organisms. This is a stark contrast from earlier days of a mechanistic, command
and control view
of organizations as human factories, to be optimized and scrutinized and timed
and quality assured. If this is true, that organizations are living organisms,
then what is your role? Are you the white blood cell that kills off the cancer?
Are you the skin that protects the organism from the ravages of the outside
world? Are you the blood that delivers oxygen to all parts of the organism?
Or are you the sensing part, the eyes and ears that see danger or opportunity
ahead? Whatever role you play, know this: You are part of something larger.
We are each part of a human system. It’s not possible to be human and
not be part of something larger.
If you forget, you will be reminded by your own loneliness.
In his book, The Living Company, Arie De Geus talks
about companies who have been in existence for over a lifetime—for 100 years or more. It’s
a select group. Even the most stellar of companies in the 20th century have
met an unforeseen death 30 or 40 years later, when their glory days have long
passed. De Geus argues that the companies who have survived for what seems
an eternity in the business world are the ones whose purpose has been to create
a community, not to make money. I flinch when I think of how heretical that
must seem to people in business. And what I know to be true is that people,
employees, yearn to be part of a community, to belong to something larger than
What can you do to strengthen the bonds of community at work?
Tell stories. Stories seep into the bones. People remember
stories. Tell stories to express what cannot be expressed in numbers and
facts. Tell stories to connect
the threads that are hanging loose around each of our necks, ready to be woven
into a rich tapestry of meaning. If you tell a story, you will capture the
attention of those who cannot see far enough down the road to discover that
it is a dead end, those who have been heads down for so long that the task
has become more important that the purpose. When things become confused and
chaotic, ask yourself, “What is the story here? And who am I being in
Trust people to be able to hear the truth. Whatever
it is that you are afraid of saying is what needs to be said. Don’t settle for the easy path, the
path of least resistance when it comes to communicating with others. Your staff,
your peers, your managers will all thank you for being direct and having the
confidence in them that they can handle anything, even the stuff that’s
hard to hear.
Ask deep questions. And be willing to hear the answers.
Be the truth-teller, the person who calls out the elephant in the room, when
everyone else wants
to hide under the table. Organizations need to live in reality, not in their
egos. Be beholden only to your conscience, to your heart. Ask yourself, “What
do I know to be true right now?”
Look for the gold in each person, if you want to have
a chance at mining jewels and not junk. If you look for jewels, you’ll find jewels. If you look
for junk, you’ll find more junk than you know what to do with.
A friend gave me this quote that summed up her approach to work:
“When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever.
In its place is something that you have left behind. Let it be something
Let your own place in the work world be something good. The world is waiting
Copyright © 2004 by Carol Ross and Associates,
Carol Ross, founder of Carol Ross and Associates, LLC, is an organization
development consultant and executive coach with 19 years experience in the
telecommunications and energy industries. By integrating her analytical skills
to approach problems and her intuitive understanding of what is meaningful
to workers, she helps transform low morale, high stress workplaces into creative,
energetic environments. Learn more at www.carolrossandassociates.com.