Malaysia may have the best food in the world, but we have ourselves often mock the service that comes with the food. Although I have had significantly better service in UK, I do not think it’s a matter of culture much more than a matter of the individual themselves. I’ve had really nice Mak Cik-s at food stalls in Malaysia and I’ve had had the contrary of horrible service from a UK fruit stall (now, that deserves a whole story on its own). My point is; what differentiates people who provide “service above self” beyond what their culture has moulded them into?One of my best and most amusing experiences with a service worker is at the London St.Pancras International Train Station, which is quite frankly, havoc most of the time (so many people!). As I was queuing for the Ladies, and the lady cleaner was a delight to watch. She was humming and whistling some happy tune interspersed with funny-pompous orders of “Alright lady, now your turn” “Oh you there, that’s a heavy baggage, gotta be careful, don’t want it banging people around” “Ah, you’re done, next in the line please”. It’s hard to describe the cheeriness and her sarcastic yet amusing antics which made standing in line less than a chore. Then you get thinking; is this part of her job? Was she required to whistle and speak to customers when she got offered the job as a janitor? I wouldn’t imagine so. Yet, that was what she provided; which was probably more than what people earning 5K a month can sometimes do.
In Organizational Psychology, this lady portrayed the concept of “job crafting1” which basically means altering boundaries of one’s job (i.e. task boundaries) to create change in the job design and/or its social environment which I think she portrayed pretty well. How does that make her a hero? If you are not thinking by the lines of big things such as saving the world, but everyday joie de vivre2, I think she saved one too many people by just brightening up what could have been an unhappy or dreary day. Two lessons here; first, our job does not define who we are. In empowering ourselves, we can reverse this ideology of being dictated by our job, and creatively dictate how our job should be instead. For those in boring jobs, perhaps this could be one way to un-boring your job. Take baby steps. You want to change the culture of your company? Change how you are yourself. Yes, I note that it is easier said than done, but hey, what is failing without trying? Of course, it could be applied to the academic arena as well. You know how you can absolutely love your course but loathe that one subject for whatever reason? (In Psychology, Statistics usually tops the “loathed subject” list). What if you work on changing aspects of the course (and I don’t mean firing your lecturer) such as looking up funny Youtube videos that help you understand the course better? It is not an expected task of you as a student, but hey, if you did manage to find one, it would probably help you and all your other course mates to succeed in the subject. My point is, try.
Second, everyday heroes are what they are, everyday people. People like you and me. We may not work in the service line, but it does not mean we can’t touch other people’s lives. By putting others above the self (in a healthy way of course), we can use our strengths to serve other people. As leaders, I think the idea of servant leadership is one that is humble and is one characteristic we all can learn as leaders – by putting people above the self, rather than materials, power and the likes. Next time you get put into a leadership position, don’t let it run up your veins, think of what you can do to make things better for yourself and the collective group at the same time.
You ready to do some life crafting?
1Wrzesniewski, A. & Dutton, J.E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26, 179 – 201.
2 Joie de vivre; a French phrase expressing cheerful enjoyment of life, simplistic pleasures
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