Last Updated Oct 17, 2008 9:07 AM EDT
The Bambara are the main farming tribe in Mali. They have great respect for words, which are like gods to them. Words, like gods, can make anything happen. So a wise elder will not speak much.
So when the elder decided to speak, it was a surprise. He asked why we thought respect for the individual was so important.
Well, of course respect for the individual is important -- regardless of faith, race or gender, respect for their need for work-life balance. But all of this was lost on the elder. All he saw was a recipe for individualism, politics and strife.
"What about respect for the community?" He asked. "Without a strong community, the individual is finished."
Many of the highest performing organisations have a sense of mission which reaches well beyond the narrow interests of respect for the individual.
The church and the army are two established examples of organisations which foster an extraordinary sense of commitment to the community. Some private sector organisations achieve similar sense of mission, especially in their early days.
A few examples show how private organisations can achieve outstanding results through a strong mission which engenders a very strong sense of community and belonging:
- McKinsey (the firm) sets standards which make its staff believe that they are part of a global elite. This engenders commitment, performance and arrogance in roughly equal proportions.
- Google, at least in its early days, went beyond seeking profits to wanting to change the world (the profits flowed through later anyway).
- Teach First is a top ten UK graduate recruiter which gets exceptional graduates to teach in challenging schools for two years at the start of their careers.
You may not have the luxury of a "change the world" vision. But if you can show that your team is making a difference and doing more than earning a wage, you will create a sense of respect, community and commitment which will show in everyone's performance.