Saturday, November 11, 2017

Monday Musings 292 - The Myth of a Perfect Employee

The myth of a perfect employee

 (First Published in ''Peoples Matter' July 2017 Issue)

While gemology, a science dedicated to the pursuit of study of gems, is a vast geological field of enquiry, the aspect of it which deals with its colours is of particular intrigue – and with significant lessons for us in the field of leadership and employee fitment.

An elementary study of precious stones will tell us that there are precious stones like diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald, while all other gemstones being semi-precious. Sapphire and Ruby, two of the most popular gems are actually cousins - both are corundum’s i.e. made up of aluminium oxide, but differ in the nature of impurities that are embedded in them respectively. The impurity chromium gives it a red hue and is called a Ruby, while an impurity of Iron or titanium will give it a blue or green or pink of purple colour and it will then be called a Sapphire.

 Beryl, chemically beryllium aluminium cyclosilicate is a large joint family. The same culprit chromium there gives it a green colour and then it’s called an emerald; the impurity of iron gives it a golden colour. The list is endless and the gem lovers have these impurities a lot to thank for; what would have been the appeal of a ruby or a sapphire or an emerald without its colour!
An impurity or an imperfection so to speak, is the reason for the value of the stone. Take away its imperfection and it’s just a stone. Human beings treat an imperfection in a very different way. It’s something to be detested, hated, criticized, corrected, feed backed, harped endlessly to the point of being nagging and frustrating, brought up needlessly and tactlessly at most inopportune times. It usually passes our attention that what appears as an imperfection may something only that we do not like, something that only we are not comfortable accepting, or something that is unacceptable to our sensibilities and not something that may be fundamentally or universally unlikable or wrong or bad. Our own sensibilities cannot and must not decide what an imperfection in a human being is arguably.
Aggression, forthrightness, ambition, result orientation, candour, courage so on and so forth can be virtues with double edges. One man’s food can be another man’s poison – what can be one persons strength will be classified as another ones area of development! Who knows for better or for worse, how a person might look once you take away what to some appears as an imperfection. Take away the impurity of chromium and a ruby is just another stone.

 It would be wise, before we judge in people what would be an impurity to our eyes, for if he were to get rid of it, he might also rid himself of his greatest strength, the one thing that might be his greatest ally in the pursuit of an outcome. Not all imperfections need to be eradicated in human beings - mostly it’s not possible, sometimes it’s not desired.

Nature perhaps teaches us a thing or two about tolerance to imperfections. Only in human world the notion of purity or perfection is so vehemently defended and even propagated – assuming that it is even possible in the first place. Let’s look at this through the lens of an example, even though it might be an extreme and controversial one. The doggedness in a founder to make an otherwise untested concept into a profitable scalable business also makes him/her ignore its effects on culture and ethos, as the recent Uber saga tells us. Unfortunately it’s the same doggedness that has been responsible for both – the meteoric rise of Uber as well as its cultural fault lines. Who knows if Uber would ever have become what it has, had Travis Kalanick not what he has been, with all his imperfections, failings and strength. Just a clarification needed to put the argument in context – this is not to defend personality imperfections or justify toxic behaviours, or the fundamental premise if human beings could become better than what they are; this is only to point out that on an average human being comes as a package of what they are brilliant at and a bit of quirks and imperfections hard wired in them. Within the limits of propriety, upholding ethics and law, one must allow space for employees to exist with their own overall skin of unique talents and peculiar quirks. The whole pursuit of having perfect employees is at best a fanciful idea, not supported by nature.

While dealing with human beings, the big question to ask is, can the impurities or imperfections be valued for what it is, or what it can be, rather than what it is not or what it shall never be?.

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