Quality Digest      
  HomeSearchSubscribeGuestbookAdvertise December 5, 2022
This Month
Need Help?
ISO 9000 Database
Web Links
Back Issues
Contact Us
Departments: First Word

Photo: Scott Paton, publisher


Swimming with the Sharks
Just when you thought it was safe...

Scott Paton

y wife gave me a greeting card last year that I keep on the bulletin board above my desk. It reads: "Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you're right." The author of this brilliant bit of insight is none other than Henry Ford, and his advice is priceless.

Looking at the card helps me keep the sharks at bay. You know the ones, the nasty little beasties that tell me I'm not good enough or smart enough or strong enough to go the distance.

I've fed these sharks my whole life, chumming the waters with negative self-talk, self-deprecation and a reluctance to put myself in uncomfortable situations like public speaking, meeting new people and leading meetings.

It's taken most of my adult life to put the sharks in their proper place. Even now, I still get my fingers nipped if I'm not careful. But I've discovered that most of the things that I've been so afraid of really aren't so bad.

I've also learned that everyone else has a few sharks swimming in their subconscious. You can see the shark fins at work in the form of employees who are reluctant to take on new tasks, fail to meet deadlines, don't play well with others and the like.

Sometimes these sharks nibble around the edges of employees' self-esteem, doing little damage. Others take big bites out of an organization's competitiveness, hindering quality programs, customer service, teamwork, communication and such. Managers, who themselves sometimes have great whites swimming in their heads, often spend more time feeding their employees' sharks than they do promoting the organization's goals and objectives.

When I was a kid growing up in Florida, sharks were something to be feared. They were routinely caught and killed for no other reason than ignorance and fear. I spent many years trying to kill my sharks, too. It took me some time to realize that sharks can serve a useful purpose. They keep me on edge and keep me from becoming too self-confident and, hopefully, too egotistical.

It took me even longer to realize I needed to respect everyone else's sharks. It's been an especially valuable lesson as a husband, father and manager. It's helped me to look beyond an attitude or attendance problem to the underlying root cause. And even though I don't always know what shark is causing the problem, just knowing it's there reminds me to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.

How many instances of workplace violence, employee termination and work-related stress could be eliminated if more managers recognized their employees' sharks? How much happier would employees be with their managers if they understood that their managers have sharks too?

Dive in and tell me what you think. Have you wrestled with sharks too, or am I all wet? E-mail me at spaton@qualitydigest.com.