Appreciating ‘unsung heroes’: How EAs can keep leaders true to their lockdown promises

Behavioural expert, Mark Carter, says EAs will be key to keeping their workplace's appreciation of the office's 'unsung heroes' front-of-mind post-COVID.

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In a former life leading Contiki tours, a favourite excursion was attending Mozart concerts in Vienna.

Whilst it wasn’t an obvious choice for your average 18-35 year-old traveller the outing frequently ended up being the surprise package.

The protocols associated with these concerts are fascinating and relevant as a powerful current lesson in human behaviour.

I want to focus on one aspect (via three short observations, drafted as a mini allegro) relating specifically to the violin virtuoso versus the percussionist. A concept EA’s will not only relate to but also be powerful proponents for. 

First movement: The quiet achievers

When the Mozart concert opens, the conductor walks into enthusiastic applause.

As the maestro presents the virtuoso there’s further generous accolade. Or as singers are presented the raised praise continues despite no one having performed as yet. This is the protocol.

Of course on the completion of each piece, acclamation and standing ovations continue.

At one point the lead violin, singers and conductor all present each other in a humbling round of ‘No, really, it’s you.’ The audience goes wild.

But one thing I couldn’t help but wonder: what about individual acknowledgement for the efforts of the musician tucked away in the back row, very far corner: The triangle player?

Listen to tracks like Mozarts ‘Ronda Alla Turca’ and you’ll hear the constant tingle, a result of their consistent efforts, at a heart attack pace. The possessed person ceaselessly thrashing percussion adds to the vivacious tempo and gives tunes a slight edge.

It’s just we’ve become so used to rock stars being front and centre, like the violin virtuoso, we frequently forget the triangle players: the percussion holding it all together or adding important yet subtle value.

Of course, lockdown has proven a great leveller to help potentially remind us of all that. 

Second movement: Becoming a rock star

To be a real rock star, whatever you’re doing should make a significant positive impact on the wider community. Significant doesn’t need to be groundbreaking. Significant can be subtle. As we saw in the early days of lockdown with efforts to restock shelves pillaged by hoarders.

In a world turned celebrity and selfie mad, it seems the desire for recognition is frequently stronger than the desire to do something meaningful that happens to gain you attention. The concept of adding real value to the community is lost.

Popularity for popularity’s sake doesn’t make you a rock star any more than wearing a nice suit, designer dress or expensive accessories give you class.

There are two ways you can become a rock star:

  1.  Do anything in a flashy manner just for the recognition
  2.  Do things you believe in, regardless whether you’re recognised or not

There’s an interesting Forbes article written by Michelle Catalano, ‘Where have all the rock stars gone?’

The closing summary is pretty succinct and similar:

‘Most importantly the musician must put their music first. Your need to make music must be the sole reason you make music. Being real works. Being a rock star doesn’t.’

Real rock stars consistently perform at their best, they just get on with things, with whatever tools they have at hand, rather than relying on Fugazi styled flashiness in order to shine.

Whilst the triangle’s simplistic design leads people to think that no skill is required to play it when in fact the opposite is true.

Curiously enough during Foo Fighters world tours, as far back as 2008, Dave Grohl highlighted his own drum player and percussionist as ‘the best triangle player aged over 7!’ A solo performed at stadiums around the world.

Real rock stars, like many EAs, are the cogs making things happen without needing to be flash or fancy about it. 

Third movement: The real rock stars

At the height of lockdown we began to appreciate some of those essential rock stars in the community who hold it all together.

What’s more, we all started to spread this goodwill and acknowledgement. How many posts have you seen where people can’t wait to support their local waiters or waitresses, give a high five to the turnstile attendants going into the footy or promise to appreciate a little more all in their workspace: the silent collaborators often overlooked or taken for granted.

The great leveller of COVID19 inspired promises by so many during this period of to be stronger proponents for traits such as humility, perspective and gratitude.

To take stock of all who humbly serve silently: the essential percussion to the stages and spotlights we create in the regular humdrum of our own non-pandemic daily life. And that includes the silent, subtle and unsung amazing collaborators back in the office.

The crescendo: Beyond lockdown

During lockdown, there have been at the surface, simplified level, a couple of different camps.

There are those folks who, on the tail end of this whole mess, might, paradoxically, forget the lessons and dive straight back into their old ways.

Or, there are those who will take the opportunity to reflect on basic lessons, self-reflection and gratitude, for the simpler aspects of their world, community and business support.

There’s another curious observation about human behaviour though, one you might recognise in your own world at times.

When the thing you’ve desired most, the prize you’ve had your eyes upon, looms larger into view our patience, that’s held firm like a mighty dam, begins to crack until a trickle of impatience turns into a flood.

A wave of suppressed emotions that carry with them the debris of those prior habits sworn as done in those emotional lockdown status updates.

One might say we are, individually and collectively, standing on a precipice.

Those promises, swiftly sworn via status updates, may crumble the closer we get to restrictions easing and life moving on, including back in the office environment and face-to-face business.

We have a choice to make. Will people show genuine appreciation for the percussionists; the simpler things in life and quality time and people when you get the chance, both personally and professionally?

Or, will they race back to conquering the world, becoming famous, faking it till you make it and not worrying so much the turbulent impact to others left in the wake of your words and actions?

What’s more the reason I share this perspective here is because EA’s and PA’s are amazingly placed and skilled to be cultural influencers. We highlighted this being one of the new requirements of the role in recent years. What’s more they are frequently the balanced voice of reason, the scales of justice with an ability to see fairness for all.

Therefore, as voices of reason and mirrors for the self-reflection and soul of a business, don’t be shy to leverage your position to ask questions of your peers, execs and colleagues and remind them the promises we’ve made to show greater appreciation for the subtle rock stars.

Because if we don’t stay true to our lockdown promises, including showing genuine appreciation for the percussionists who help us shine or bring our world to life, we all might well find ourselves asking in the near future: where have all the real business rock stars gone?

THE EXPERT
Mark Carter is a director, author, international speaker and regular media contributor. He’s also custom-built a unique academy from experience as a learning and development leader with over 20 years experience in more than 40 countries, www.markcarter.com.au. For speaking inquiries contact ICMI Speakers and Entertainers.