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Unsung Heroes of the Workplace: A Field Guide

In every workplace there are unsung heroes who get things done, help their colleagues become successful, but generally stay out of the limelight.

Successful teams absolutely depend upon these folk, and your success in business will depend largely upon your ability to identify these heroes and either get them on your team or get yourself on their team.

In Sylvia Lafair's fascinating book "Don't Bring It To Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" she describes 13 of these unsung heroes so that you can more easily locate these important players. Here they are, as a gallery, so that you can spot them more quickly:

The first unsung hero: The Creative Collaborator »
NOTE: This post is a companion to "Office Nut Cases: A Field Guide," which tells you which fellow employees to avoid.

Unsung Hero #1: The Creative Collaborator
  • Definition: A creative collaborator has realized that success doesn't have to entail only individual accomplishment but can be more rewarding when it includes working together. With this awareness, creative collaborators redefine that emotionally packed word "success" so that wealth, position, and fame are no longer the only purpose for defining what really matters in designing one's life. Creative collaboration is consistent with even the greatest individual accomplishment.
  • Their Role Model: British filmmakers Bill Leeson and David Wilson formed a group called War Child to bring aid and comfort to children living the war-torn areas of the former Yugoslavia. Opera star Luciano Pavarotti joined the cause by putting on concerts in Italy. Rather than give himself over to super-achiever egotism, Pavarotti took the long view and invited all types of popular singers to join with him.
  • Their Business Impact: When super achievers come together in support of a larger vision for the common good, amazing things happen. In the business world, the demand for creative collaborators is greater than ever, because the nature of work in a globalized society demands collaboration. Only rarely can one person alone produce what we need. Greatness comes from a group of super achievers when they learn to collaborate and enter into a more rewarding world of heightened creativity.
The next unsung hero: The Community Builder »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

Unsung Hero #2: The Community Builder
  • Definition: Some things are worth fighting for, yet most the time there's a better way. While rebels thrive on the negative attention they receive from their opposition to almost anything, community builders are capable of transcending opposition when appropriate, respecting other viewpoints and exploring areas of potential unity. They learn to embrace the notion that we're all connected and that no one wins unless we all do.
  • Their Role Model: Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield founded Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream in 1980. Within five years, they established the Ben & Jerry's Foundation to fund community-oriented projects; it was then provided with 7.5% of the company's annual pre-tax profits. The president of the United States soon awarded the pair the title of U.S. Small Business Persons Of The Year.
  • Their Business Impact: Community builders can tackle problems at the core level and accelerate change. Their focus on the basic wants and needs of the community and the desire to move from what exists now to what is possible stimulates a groundswell of activity as more and more people feel included and become activated to help. Problems can be tackled at a core level, transforming organizations and societies in amazing ways.
The next unsung hero: The Realizer »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

Unsung Hero #3: The Realizer
  • Definition: What's it like when you're in the presence of someone who really makes things happen? Most people report having a feeling of effervescence, as if they'd just taken the first sip of a good champagne. Realizers help open doors that seemed nonexistent minutes before. There's a sense that all things are possible.
  • Their Role Model: Amber Chand is an entrepreneur who knows how to make things happen. She was expelled from Uganda in 1973 when the dictator Idi Amin came to power. Amber started a handicrafts company that supports women living in the shadows of war and deep, enduring poverty. She is making a difference and bringing hope were there is none.
  • Their Business Impact: Everyone who has ever faced a daunting challenge knows how important it is to be around somebody who can communicate what seems impossible and see the essence of hope in a haystack of adversity. When realizers are present, businesses are in a strong position to become leaders of innovation and break through to new creative ideas.
The next unsung hero: The Humorist »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

Unsung Hero #4: The Humorist
  • Definition: Humorists are not the office clowns who make inappropriate jokes, or try to use humor to distract people from real problems. Humorists put our comfort and worries into perspective, so that we can laugh at ourselves and the situation and pause before tackling difficulties. Humorists don't push us to avoid conflict but instead handle it in a balance, healthy way.
  • Their Role Model: Jon Stewart of Comedy Central has an ability to blend hilarity with a serious treatment of today's top news stories. Night after night, he entertains us while asking hard questions about divisive issues such as the economy and health care. He's both funny and well-prepared, so that many people now get their news from the show rather than from more traditional programs.
  • Their Business Impact: Organizations such as General Electric and Kodak are starting to recognize the value of humor and even hire comedians as humor consultants to help lighten things up. We all know that laughter is good for our health, and someone who has the skill to tell the right joke at the right time can help reduce office stress and build camaraderie among the staff. This is a valuable and much-needed service in today's intense, fast-paced work environment, where employees often say they're "functioning on fumes."
The next unsung hero: The Visionary »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

Unsung Hero #5: The Visionary
  • Definition: Visionary leaders have learned the art and craft of conflict transformation. Their core aim is to unite rather than divide people. They are sensitive to the desires and needs of others and often have internalized the feeling of what it's like to be judged and told that they're wrong. Out of that comes an ability to listen to others and imagine a better future.
  • Their Role Model: Herb Kelleher made Southwest one of America's premier airlines by running the company according to the Golden Rule; customers are treated with the same respect as the employees who serve them. Similarly, Jeffrey Swartz of Timberland Shoes reinforce the firm's success by paying employees to volunteer in the community.
  • Their Business Impact: In business, visionaries are in short supply. Wherever they reside, the visions involve a profound respect and appreciation for others. When they take a leadership role, they help us envision a more compassionate world, where our activities make a difference. Think about the visionaries you respect and would be willing to follow. The visionary can point to that place that we know is better and then give us the courage to take steps to get there.
The next unsung hero: The Explorer »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

Unsung Hero #6: The Explorer
  • Description: Explorers find out everything there is to know about a subject. They read books, browse the Internet, go to lectures and talk to just about everyone they can to find the right information. They take interest in a vast array of subjects and have a willingness to learn and an optimistic daring that is infectious. Explorers volunteer for projects and love to collaborate. While everyone else is dreading ambiguity, they will challenge all who seem unsure and hold them accountable for their words and actions. They inspire people to try new things and are always willing to be part of the first test to make sure that a project will succeed.
  • Their Role Model: Richard Branson has ballooned across the Atlantic, has been knighted by the Queen of England and has over 360 companies under his Virgin brand. He is passionate about the environment and has offered large prizes for solutions to the problems of global warming as well as pledge vast amounts for development renewable alternative to carbon fuels.
  • Their Business Impact: Businesses gain a great deal from having explorers as part of the staff. They're excellent collaborators and are willing to do the leg work to get new projects going. Say to an explorer "I wonder what would happen if" and watch his or her eyes light up! They are team players who will help and guide, without hogging the limelight or shrinking away from it. Explorers have a great sense of timing and can withstand holding back on a project until the kinks have been worked.
The next unsung hero: The Mentor »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

Unsung Hero #7: The Mentor
  • Description: Mentors know how to listen and give good advice at just the right time. They know how to stand in the background and applaud without needing credit. They're willing to let go when you're competent to make your own decisions without them. The best mentors are not those who sailed through life without setbacks but rather those who have had to go through their own intense training and overcome obstacles and challenges.
  • Their Role Model: Kevin Roberts, the international CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the world's leading creative organizations, provides mentorship on multiple levels. In his adopted homeland of New Zealand, his mentoring helps youngsters transform negativism into positive action through the "Turn Your Life Around" program.
  • Their Business Impact: In the workplace there is great power in mentoring programs. The power of both outside coaches and internal mentoring programs can be seen most clearly when people of diverse backgrounds are paired. The more employees can learn about each other and ask open ended questions to begin authentic dialogues, the more they will move toward a common ground of shared perspective.
The next unsung hero: The Storyteller »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

Unsung Hero #8: The Storyteller
  • Description: Storytelling has played a fundamental role in all societies to help human beings make sense of their world. Storytellers the world over establish a sense of credibility, authenticity, and wholeness in their communities. Rather than retreating from conflict, storytellers help communities understand how problems can be, and should be, solved. They help communicate company values, share important business knowledge, and limit office politics. They take a firm's agenda and communicate it to all stakeholders, helping them feel comfortable and motivated even during periods of wrenching change.
  • Their Role Model: Anita Roddick, founder of the retail chain The Body Shop, had an uncanny way of telling a story, whether she was talking about business matters or broader social and environmental change. She always had an inspirational tale to tell about a country she had visited or the people she had met. When she died several years ago, she left behind thousands of inspired employees and customers, as well as a powerful legacy of doing business for the right reasons.
  • Their Business Impact: Although it's easy to tell a story, it's more difficult to be a great storyteller. What matters most is that the storyteller is clear that the tale will teach something that matters on a higher level. With their spiritual depth, storytellers move teams to places that PowerPoint presentations alone cannot take them. The wise words of a good storyteller help make up for the distance that voicemail, e-mails and other forms of modern communication create between us.
The next unsung hero: The Integrator »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

Unsung Hero #9: The Integrator
  • Description: Integrators base their success on the ability to see all sides of a situation and allow conflicting parties to not only be heard but acknowledged. They have the ability to gather a group and find ways that individuals can work together and upwards.
  • Their Role Model: John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, has created a firm that has successfully acquired and integrated a variety of companies in different areas of high tech. Several acquired companies have grown into $1Bn+ business units for Cisco, including LAN switching, VOIP, and home networking. Cisco is now one of the world's most valuable companies, and was a 2002-03 recipient of the Ron Brown Award, a U.S. presidential honor to recognize companies "for the exemplary quality of their relationships with employees and communities".
  • Their Business Impact: Integrators can work wonders inside their organizations. They are the ones who help change a "silo mentality" to one of real cooperation. They've learned to break down the opposition of the interest groups who want to make sure their budgets are safe. They help people learn to share. These integrators have an uncanny way of slicing the pie; although every piece may not be identical, everyone feels content that they are being treated with fairness and respect.
The next unsung hero: The Truth Teller »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

Unsung Hero #10: The Truth Teller
  • Description: Truth tellers have a firm grasp on what they want to say and have given deep thought as to the possible outcomes of their discourse. They will not change their mind just to pacify someone, although they are not averse to adjusting their opinions if that will enable a conflict to push towards resolution. They do not beat around the bush, and people in their audiences generally listen.
  • Their Role Model: Erin Brockovich, the subject of the eponymous film, risked everything in her stand against big corporate interests, because she felt that the truth alone was worth fighting for. Her ability to pursue the truth, despite the consequences, had an enormous impact on the lives of people whose health had been ruined and, through the movie, changed the way that people view industrial pollution.
  • Their Business Impact: In the business world, truth tellers are wonderful people to work with. They give colleagues and subordinates a tremendous amount of room to explore and learn. They are eager for people to ask their opinion, yet they feel no great attachment to their ideas and also no great need to be worshiped. With truth tellers, you always know where you stand. You are treated as an adult.
The next unsung hero: The Initiator »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

Unsung Hero #11: The Initiator
  • Description: Initiators are willing to start work on a project before all the questions have been answered. They take charge and become full participants in situations where creativity is especially important. The initiator can tolerate and moderate the conflicts that inevitably show up before creative process comes into full bloom. The initiator takes joy in the creative process and shows a willingness to let in all who wish to be included. Initiator like to get involved in the thick of arguments, thus allowing them to be resolved more quickly so that the creative process can move forward.
  • Their Role Model: Jeff Taylor, founder of was there in the beginning, when the Web was still in an infant. Even though many companies and individuals were struggling to understand how to use the Internet to build companies and careers, he worked out the kinks, creating a website that remains popular today.
  • Their Business Impact: Innovative thinking about what really matters is the key to business success. The initiator challenges everyone to initiate more effective and inclusive ways to do business. An initiator is one who steps "out of the box" and is able to see how seemingly unconnected ideas can come together to develop something new. At work, initiators are a bonus to the bottom line. They have an amazing ability to create an inclusive environment. In a leadership role, the initiator goes beyond the "rock star" archetype and looks for deeper meaning.
The next unsung hero: The Trust Builder »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

Unsung Hero #12: The Trust Builder
  • Description: Building trust means peeling away the defenses that have built over lifetimes. In the workplace, leaders build trust by considering all aspects of the business, from a successful bottom line to creative and engaged employees.
  • Their Role Model: Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, has spent his career as a trust builder. His concern for his employees was expressed clearly when his company became the first in the United States to provide on-site day care, maternity and paternity leave, and flextime. The Patagonia catalog has been used to speak out about environmental concerns and helps to prove that a business can make a profit without losing its soul.
  • Their Business Impact: Trust builders are the glue that holds an organization together. Their commitment to building trust creates a counterforce to the deception and political game-playing that makes so many offices difficult places to work. People are drawn to trust builders because they know, at a fundamental level, that trusting, and being trusted, is the best way to ensure that everyone in the organizations wins.
The final unsung hero: The Peacemaker »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

Unsung Hero #13: The Peacemaker

  • Description: Peacemakers cannot be swayed to side with one group or individual against another. What they care about is the fight to preserve the integrity of the whole system. Peacemakers teach us that peace is a state of mind and that it's still possible to be happy in the midst of turmoil and chaos.
  • Their Role Model: Stan Shih founded the high tech manufacturer Acer in 1976 until his retirement late in 2004. Under his leadership, Acer grew from a tiny start-up to a billion-dollar worldwide brand. Meanwhile, Shih was instrumental in building business ties between Taiwan and mainland China, despite major political differences between the two regions. After retirement, Shih remains active in local charities and has represented the government of Taiwan in international trade negotiations.
  • Their Business Impact: In a difficult economy, businesses cannot afford to become involved in turf wars and other fear-based behaviors. More than ever, companies need individuals who can come forward and find the common ground that will allow people to work more easily together. Peacemakers reduce the tendency for corporate conflicts to end in workplace violence and lawsuits.
CLICK for a summary and more information »
Adapted from "Don't Bring It to Work; Breaking the Family Patterns that Limit Success" by Sylvia Lafair.

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