COMMENTARY: Totally committed, sort of

by Jul 18, 2019OPINIONS





We are a Tribe of silos. Try as we might, we cannot seem to get out to the habit of stopping short if a project requires overlap in scopes of work. I know I am generalizing, but, generally speaking, it happens. Oh sure, when mandated or forced to partner, we grudgingly capitulate. We will do our duty as defined and only our duty as directed. Yes, I know that we are not all like that, but there are certainly enough of us to take notice.  

There must be a sense of value and pride in the work we do. And, it shouldn’t matter who we are doing it with or for. Sometimes, I think we forget to look beyond the paycheck as we do our services to the community, even those of us who are members of the community in which we are doing the services. As for the tribal government, there are good, community-minded people and leadership examples. But even in those examples, there are those who are not focused on the mission or are concentrating on personal gain or comfort. 

There is a proverb that reads, “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.” 

We talk a bunch about pride and respect and how we will not give it until we get it, which is the reverse logic of the proverb. The wisdom in the proverb is that it doesn’t mention waiting to see how you will be treated. It simply says that you should think about how you would like to be treated or served, then do that to those who you serve. 

When you sign up to do a servant job, you agree to be a servant. And, that is what we are as government employees, just like those elected officials who lead the Tribe. Government work is just that, serving the people through governance. We, the people, tell the government what to do, and we, the government, set about doing it. 

I don’t know about you, but my expectations are high when I request service. If someone needs to work on my car, I don’t want just an “ok” mechanic. If someone is going to paint my house, I don’t want just an “ok” painter. There is a new AT&T Wireless commercial campaign being distributed now titled “Just ok is not ok.” It illustrates what it looks like to encounter service that doesn’t meet expectations. One of the scenarios is a patient in a hospital getting his final consultation for surgery. 

The dialogue goes as follows:

Patient: Have you ever worked with Dr. Francis?

Nurse: Oh yeah, he’s ok.

Patient: Just ok?

Doctor (walks in): Guess who just got reinstated! Well, not officially (then to the patient) Nervous?

Patient: Yeah!

Doctor: Yeah, me too. Don’t worry about it; we’ll figure it out. I’ll see you in there. 

I don’t want services of any kind that are not the best or to have services provided by someone less than interested in the outcome. I bet you are that way too. So, if our expectation is the best for ourselves, that old proverb is telling us that is the level of service that we should be providing for our citizenry. As a tribal employee, like me, is that your mindset? Do you go at your job every day with the thought of providing your community with the best service you are capable of, regardless if you are an in a high paying position or someone who is at the bottom of the pay scale? Do you look at the service you are providing and ask, “If someone were doing this for me, how would I want them to do it?’. If you don’t, you are not alone. Many of us fall into the mindset of just doing enough or getting by. That is why they call great treatment “exceptional service.” It is above and beyond the normal. 

This is not just about customer service. It is about work ethic. It is about knowing that part of what makes me the person I am in my level of integrity and commitment. 

I have been a supervisor of people for over 30 years. Supervisors and managers are facilitators if they are doing the job right. It isn’t about being a dictator or lording over the people who work for you; it is about creating a work environment conducive to production, identifying and amplifying the worker’s abilities, and supplying the needs of those workers so that they may do their jobs. 

I don’t know of anyone who wakes up in the morning and says, “Let me see what I can fail at or screw up today.” Most poor work behavior has to do with the motivation provided by the “leaders” of the organization. Over time, an employee will become jaded and bitter when they see the example of bad leadership being rewarded with promotion and pay. And, when an employee is allowed to demonstrate that it is possible to sidestep rules and be a poor producer with no repercussions, the morale of those who are trying to produce is always affected negatively. 

Even with the challenges of poor leadership in some businesses and organizations, there are those who continue to give their jobs their best effort and remain productive contributors. They realize that, no matter what is going on around them, there is a personal standard to achieve, the right way. While these individuals appreciate the recognition and higher pay, they are more concerned with improving the product that they are delivering. It is like signing their name to each piece of work they produce; the task becomes a part of them and, out of a sense of ownership or pride, they are committed that everything they do, they will do it to the best of their ability. It goes back to the “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” mentality. 

I found an old walking stick several years ago. The person who had cut it just cut out a limb and did a quick rough trim of the branches on the resulting stick. Rubbing your hand across it was a good way to get a splinter or two. You could tell that not much care had been taken and whoever had it used it and once it was no longer needed, they set it aside and walked away from it. The more I look at that stick, the more I felt a need to work on it. I spent months sanding down all the rough knots and burrs on it, inlaid personal symbols on it, applied coat after coat of tung oil to protect it and burned my name into it. I did all that because I felt a sense of connection and ownership in that stick. I use it now as I walk the Qualla Boundary and mountains of western North Carolina. It is not worth much of anything to anyone else, but it has great value to me. And, a byproduct of my labor was that as I walk in these public places, my stick has started getting admirers and it is cause for strangers to strike up a conversation, an opportunity to make a human connection. Now, most folks would not have spent two minutes on that stick, but I saw something in it that appealed to me.  And, when I decided to work on it, I put my attention and effort into doing the best job that I could do. Not for prestige, not for reward in the ordinary sense of the word, just the personal satisfaction that I did my best. 

We talk about respect a lot on the Boundary. Many say you must earn it. Let me challenge you to rethink that philosophy. Why don’t we try to show respect, even when we think it is not deserved; not for the person who is receiving the honor, but for our integrity and satisfaction. No one wins when a person goes low, and another follows them down to the same behavior. In my jobs, including this one, I have had to make decisions that are not popular. Some people have been very disrespectful because of those decisions. I don’t let that cause me to act likewise. One of the definitions of respect is “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.” Our ability to act right is not dependent on another person’s ability to do the same.   

Let’s be committed in our personal and professional lives. Totally committed to being who we say we are, the Principal People. The Right Path Leadership Program assembled seven Cherokee Core Values and brought them to the Tribal Council, and those were adopted as Cherokee core values. They are group harmony, spirituality, strong individual character, sense of place, honoring the past, educating the children, and sense of humor. If we all try to live those core values daily, we cannot help but be a better nation.