A Tale of Two Labor Day Perspectives
Two young men will be celebrating their careers this Labor Day. As individuals, they represent the dichotomy of the challenges we face in building teams from both sides of the work divide. There is a crucial Labor Day lesson that we can learn from their work.
On one side, we have Dr. Adam, who is curating paleontological specimens at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. His work is classic white collar, and his employer has empowered him to be an authoritative team member. He has latitude — he is able to pursue his vision of effective research. He feels appreciated when his work gets noticed, and his projects are expanded. His employer provides challenging work that expands their offerings. They understand how to motivate a giving, effective team member to ensure that he keeps on giving by staying out of his way and letting him shine.
On the other side, we have James, a Maryland day-run truck driver who picks up containers at the Port of Baltimore, hauls them to client sites, and returns for more. One day he’s hauling 40,000 pounds of a sports drink and the next 25 tons of frozen tofu chicken nuggets. Most of his days are spent alone in the cab of a truck, focused on getting from Point A to Point B. Why is James happy and productive this Labor Day? Because he found a career that meets his needs and gives him time to think. He provides what the public needs. And yes, we do occasionally need 35,000 pounds of baby carrots.
Either of them would be driven crazy by the other’s environment. James did not embrace the scholarly role Adam enjoys, and Adam surely does not relish the thought of physical labor, but both men love their jobs.
Why are both of them ideal team members?
What have their employers done right?
They are both ideal team members because they are in careers that play to their strengths. Adam loves dinosaurs, has a passion for academics, and a knack for translating all things paleontological into plain English. The Virginia Museum directors have opened the doors that have allowed him to exploit those traits.
James is a voracious consumer of audiobooks. He savors the opportunity to focus on one thing at a time and likes to leave his work at the door when he arrives home. And, his employers do nothing to get in the way of those objectives.
What Can We Leverage from these Examples?
On Labor Day, we can remind our team members (and ourselves) that our primary interest is the individual. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution in the workplace, but there are solutions that are universal (in spirit). People in any role need opportunities to exploit their strengths. They need to feel a reasonable level of control. And they need to be able to share their passion with others who echo that passion. The truck driver and the paleontologist have found that. At a time when we hear people arguing that we are in a world that cannot reconcile its differences, let’s focus on our commonalities this Labor Day. As managers, we need to open doors for our team members to be their best, exercise their gifts, and build the projects, organizations, and businesses from their hearts.
Start today! Ask your team members how your organization can improve. Open the door for those with both blue and white collars to play to their strengths. Ask them what they love most about their role. When our labors (and theirs) are labors of love, Labor Day takes on a far more profound meaning.
Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP, is principal and founder of Pritchard Management Associates, proud father of a paleontologist and a truck driver, and a senior instructor at Management Concepts. An expert lecturer, author, researcher, instructor, and coach, Carl is focused on project management, particularly risk and communications. Carl earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and PMP. He welcomes your comments and insights.