Humility not Hubris

It’s the office party season: a great time to observe the inherent culture of an organisation. When alcohol is involved and inhibitions lowered, you can glean many a valuable insight. In vino veritas, as the Romans used to say.

Does the leadership team sit apart, on its own top table. Or do its members deliberately spread themselves around the room? Better still, do they compete to sit and talk with the drivers and cleaners? Is the CEO’s summing-up speech cheered by the crowd, or digested with a generous helping of dark mutters?

Many things are common to all organisations. The systematic attack on the buffet that leaves the back of the queue with empty plates. The maximising of the free bar opportunity that sees gleeful colleagues necking tall glasses of undiluted spirits.  Romances and quarrels, old and new. The flatterers try to work their magic; the gossipers wield their knives.

The festive season reminds us all that every enterprises is intended to be collaborative grouping of humans. No wonder the word ‘company’ originated in the Latin for ‘those who eat bread together.’ And humans are complex, unpredictable creatures. Liable to be swayed by strong emotion more often than cool logic. That’s why it’s important to get the feel of the office party right. Is everyone comfortable? Is it safe for them to enjoy themselves.

One way to loosen up the party is for the bosses to show some vulnerability. This is usually contrived by the MC, who finds ways to poke a little bit of fun at the top table, without parting company with decorum (thereby risking his fee and a repeat booking). But it’s much better received when the leadership team makes a deliberate effort to lower their guard for a few minutes.

I saw this last week, when a whole executive team danced and sang YMCA by the Village People. And do you know what? Having set their minds to the task and rehearsed it properly, they were rather good. The crowd went wild and the performers actually enjoyed themselves. It was the pivot of the evening.

Not surprising that, with a leadership team like this, the enterprise has added 5 new African countries, made 2 big acquisitions and doubled its turnover in the past 12 months. You don’t make step changes like that if your leaders prioritise status over impact. If their first prize is a bar stool at the Capital Club.

Come to think of it, there won’t be many local companies who have had that good a year in 2019. Food (and drink) for thought as you reflect on what has been, and plan for the year to come.