Letters from Vietnam (10): A lesson from the orphanage
Letters from Vietnam – Part 10
Or should it be: Lessons from Vietnam?
And here is my final Letter from Vietnam, which I am actually writing while having a stop-over in buzzing Bangkok. But the thoughts I want to share with you still originate from Vietnam. All happened in a town called Kon Tum, where I visited an orphanage.
The orphanage is home to about 200 children. Not all are actual orphans, some have been placed here by families who are not able to support them. Some families are too poor to shelter and feed an additional child, some families are in severe trouble because of drug and alcohol abuse.
As I was walking through the individual rooms I was several times “raided” by kids who were looking for some attention. Many of them liked to cuddle, which is nice but not unproblematic at the same time. We have to be very aware of the emotional impact on the children if these kind of encounters become the typical interaction with foreigners.
When I was hanging around there with kids sticking to my legs like wax it slowly dawned upon me that many of these children must have experienced a significant amount of misuse. And I was not even thinking of the most horrific kind of abuse – you can imagine what I am talking about – no, I was thinking about a specific kind of abuse that happens even in the best families and that is much more subtle to detect than the horror behind closed doors.
The number one kind of child abuse is denying them a healthy environment. In my opinion a healthy environment has three crucial ingredients. Stick with me for a while and you’ll see what these ingredients have to do with your business. The ingredients are:
Let’s have a look at each of them.
A safe environment means that you can always go home and independent of what you have done you will not have to fear any harm. Even if you have done something stupid you can go home and you can be sure that you will not suffer any punishment or damage. There might be some disciplinary consequences like a temporary withdrawal of some privileges but you can be sure that nothing will happen that you have to be afraid of.
A valuing environment means that you and your thoughts are always taken seriously. Nobody will ever make fun of you because you opened your mouth or come up with a new idea. People will laugh with you but never laugh at you. If at all they will smile at you and carefully listen to what you want to say. Your ideas and actions will be esteemed and the worst that will happen to you is the question: “Who sold you on that plan?”
A predictable environment is a place where you know what to expect. No (unpleasant) surprises. I wrote about predictability in my third Letter from Vietnam. It explains that under certain conditions it is crucial to be predictable. And if you buy that idea you will understand the value of a predictable environment. It means that you find shelter when you come back and you’ll never have to ask yourself: “I wonder what will happen…”
Since we have to be the change we’d like to see in this world it is our duty to create environments that are safe, valuing, and predictable.
- We want to be a safe place for others to pitch camp. This will create an attractive force field around us both for our children and our customers. Always be a soft landing place for others who are reaching for your help or advise.
- We will value the ideas of others without pre-judgement. When somebody says or does something that is not compliant with our personal philosophy we will actively listen and observe and not jump to conclusions immediately. Too often we judge something to be wrong only because it is different than the way we think or act. The world is a diverse place and only because somebody else is taking another road like you it doesn’t automatically mean they are lost. As Stephen R. Covey in his bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People wrote: “First seek to understand, and then to be understood.”
- And finally we will make sure that people know what to expect when they approach us. When somebody asks you to do something and you accept the task you will never want them to worry whether they can rely on your promise. Imagine and create a clear picture of the person you want to be and radiate it into this world. The only surprise we impose on others is to under-promise and over-deliver.
Application of the lesson learnt to your business
Every person in a corporation is responsible for creating a healthy work environment. It doesn’t matter whether you are flipping burgers, answering the phone or make million dollar decisions from your corner office. Each of us is responsible to create a place where both customers and employees are happy to be. Here are a few final thoughts.
- Create safety by encouraging your staff to make errors. Though be very proactive when it comes to mistakes. Make sure that your staff can approach you without fear when they’ve done something that didn’t work out. Failure is a necessary part of growth. If people are too afraid to make mistakes chances are that they will try to sweep their mistakes under the rug. If so, mistakes quickly develop into damages. It is your responsibility to avoid that by creating a safe environment.
- Value and appreciate achievements always. Let other people know when somebody did something extraordinaire and encourage others to do the very same. Too many of us are trying to catch others with their pants down. To few are willing to publicly praise a good performance of somebody else. If you don’t create a valuing and appreciative environment your employees (and your customers) might be willing to find it somewhere else.
- Finally make sure that people know what to expect when they call you or enter your office. Always show one and the same face to all. You don’t have to be available at all times but when somebody is asking for your help, advise or support always make sure that they didn’t come in vain. It’s all up to you: If you want to be a jerk, act like a jerk. If you want to be a paragon, act like a paragon.
And now go and BE the change you want to see in this world. For the children of Kon Tum I wish that they will soon enter a better place.
It was my pleasure to share with you some of my thoughts that were inspired by my trip through Vietnam with you, most valued reader. I thank all who replied and wrote personal notes to me. You kept me going and I am very much looking forward to meeting you face-to-face in due course.