I’ll let you in on a little secret. If I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t recycle. There are many practical reasons for this, none of them particularly justified, but the truth of it is if I am working in an office where there are no amenities to sort my trash I will not rise up and become a recycling champion. I do sort my trash when the facilities exist (at work and at home), but will also thoughtlessly toss my unsorted trash in the bin when there is no apparent place to put my paper and plastics. I may be relegated to an eternity of garbage sorting in my next life because of this shortcoming, but championing recycling has not been my forte in this life.
My forte is a different sort of social responsibility, because social responsibility comes in a continuum and many, many flavours. My brand of social responsibility is conscientiousness. I may not champion recycling, but I will always leave the office coffee pot with enough coffee in it for the next person (or I will start a new pot). I will always be on time for our meeting, unless forces outside my control intervene. I actively work to dissolve silos in working environments because they exemplify the antithesis of conscientiousness and social responsibility. I have worked in many offices where they support a near microscopic level of recycling, but the people working on the same team, on the same project, don’t meaningfully communicate with one another. This is costly and wearing on both teams and individuals - no one goes home feeling self-fulfilled or experiences well-being where silos are present. So how can one level of social responsibility thrive (recycling) and the other (transparent and consistent inter-team work) does not?
Leadership is key. It’s easy to champion a recycling program at work and get buy in, anyone can do it (yes, even me). It is a lot harder to help others understand why they should care about the impact their decisions have on other teams or parts of the organization that are not “immediately seen”. The first is an action enabling right behaviours (recycling); the second are behaviours enabling right actions (conscientiousness). As any practiced leader can tell you, it’s a lot easier to champion actions then it is to champion behaviours. However, just as the right action of recycling demonstrates, when we chose to act in the right ways, we can make an amazing difference (less landfill, healthier environment, better use of resources, etc.). Just as with any other part of emotional intelligence we are always able to develop our level of conscientiousness, but it takes leadership to move it beyond the scope of one person. Note that leadership is something anyone can do, no matter what role you hold.
Silos are broken down when we extend our thought patterns, becoming curious about what really matters to others, even those we cannot “see”. This becomes even stronger when we are able to do this with others (teams or individuals) by asking questions and thinking of the bigger picture. Social responsibility is the act of stepping outside of yourself and examining the impacts of your decisions; some decisions (like recycling) we are well versed in. Others, like thinking beyond the boundaries of our role and projects, are less tangible but all require a high degree of self-management to practice, and they hold the key to self-fulfillment that also supports a healthy working environment.
Take into consideration this example from a client who wanted to “be more strategic” and came into coaching to learn how to do this better. There was nothing wrong with the clients’ ability to apply business acumen and strategic thinking in her daily work, it was the act of using that strategic picture to stir herself and others to “right action” that eluded her. When she enabled others to also understand the bigger picture and how working more closely together (asking questions, making small changes and compromises) supported the strategic direction the company was working towards, she inspired others to think differently too. More then that, she enabled them to see things in a different light that allowed them to think strategically, using the bigger picture as a reference point that could then enable others to go forward and share that point of view with even more people. It became contagious. In chaos theory you would call this “the butterfly effect”. As a visual it is represented by the growing ripples that extend around a small pebble dropped into a stream. This is the power of conscientiousness. How are you putting this power to work in your life?