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Zoe and the crabs: How to realise your full potential

Greatness emerges from consistently choosing to do what is right with great love and passion, Mildred Lopez writes


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The worth of a person should be measured not by how much wealth they have or who they know but by what they are, for that is where future growth is.

In any society or organisation, many forces conspire to ensure the mediocrity and stagnancy of its human resources.

Why is this the case? Essentially, it is because in an organisation, fellow workers do not want bright energetic individuals to fully engage in the pursuit of great work.

Why? From my experience, I observed three propositions:

  • A driven individual will surpass the ability of the others and rise above them
  • That individual’s initiatives will show up the lack of performance of colleagues and place an onus on them to rise and do likewise, and that is not desirable for them
  • This creates a certain discomfort that nudges fellow workers to leave their easy and accustomed routine, and they despise this

Hence the rat pack will consolidate and conspire to bring that motivated individual down to the level of their complacency of mediocrity. Resources are wasted.

There are essentially two distinct groups of people at play:

 TypePopulation sizeAttributes
PerformersThis is a very small niche group who ensure the growth and sustainability of an organisation. These are the performing assets of an organisation or society.Thoughtful, uplifting, inspiring, problem solving, resilient, peacemaking, change making, God-fearing
SpoilersThis is a large group. These are the non-performing assets, ie liabilities.Insecure, toxic, jealous, envious, lethargic, angry, unhappy

The performers encourage, empower and inspire others. They are not afraid if others stand tall. They do not prop themselves up by diminishing others because they know that by uplifting and providing courage and support, they too rise higher and win together. Like the dazzling and spectacular performers of the Moulin Rouge, they know they must keep momentum, raise their game and sustain it. The organisation’s performance is entirely dependent on the performers.

The spoilers are like empty vessels that make the loudest noise. They are ‘actors’ who pretend to be relevant to earn their income without doing any substantial work. They are gossipers, backbiters and backstabbers who prey on the performers. They prop themselves up on the backs of those they put down, blaming others for their inadequacies.

Blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault we find with another, we will not succeed in changing their failings that are making us unhappy.

Attracting talent is a great challenge for organisations. But an even greater task is retaining talent. I watched as a newbie entered the office early one rainy February morning. Looking fresh, tall and beautifully graceful, Zoe settled in comfortably.

Everyone tried with earnest to introduce themselves, and Zoe made friends quickly. She was eager for work so she could learn the workings of the company.

Taking advantage of her enthusiasm, many offloaded their work, and she was glad to accept. Noise levels rose a little, as people had more time to engage in casual banter.

For months I noticed Zoe hard at work, long after work hours under a single light in an empty and dark office.

“Goodnight.” I waved at her one evening as I was leaving. “The work can wait till morning.”

Smilingly, she said, “It’s Longfellow, you see.”

“Longfellow! What’s your inclination?” I asked in jest.

In a vibrant tone that echoed in the now empty office, she recited, “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”

Surprised by such wisdom and vigour in one so young, I left inspired.

By year’s end, it was appraisal time. While most retained the consistency of their performance, Zoe had outperformed on all key performance indicators.

Suddenly the tide changed, and the forces moved against her, and as she felt suffocated, I saw the life zapped out of her.

At 3pm on a hot sunny afternoon, I heard the sobs of a troubled person in the toilet cubicle.

“Hello, hello,” I called out gently. “Can I help you?”

No answer.

After an hour of waiting, I left. I could not know who it was, as it was also the office complex toilet.

Still troubled, I penned my name and telephone number on a large piece of yellow fluorescent paper, with a message: “I am waiting to listen to you. Anytime you are ready.” I slipped it under the toilet door and returned to the office. I said a prayer for peace and calm for that poor, despairing girl.

The next morning, Zoe phoned me, saying she was on medical leave and wondering if she could have lunch with me.

Unusual, I thought, and agreed to meet her at a restaurant close to her home.

At lunch, Zoe produced my note and asked, “Why do you care?” The sparkle in her eyes had gone. She emptied her heart of all the subjugation her colleagues had imposed on her.

I learned she was only 21, from an underprivileged background. She had worked and supported herself while studying. She was now a qualified professional. This was a remarkable achievement for anyone by any standards.

Hence, her more senior co-workers and manager found her a threat and were squashing her hopes and dreams. She needed to succeed for her family and her community. As she could not do it in the current organisation, she was planning on leaving. She was resigned to the fact she was not needed.

What a loss of a valuable asset to the firm, I thought. “Let’s order some crabs. I simply love to feast on them. Would you care to have some?”

“They are my favourite,” she replied.

“Then we are alike.”

As we ate and relished the particularly large crabs, I related a lesson I learned on the nature of crabs. As I was walking leisurely in the cool dawn along a beach in Kerala by the Arabian Sea, I noticed a man fishing with a bucket beside him. The bucket had live crabs in it, but it had no lid.

The man went back and forth near the water’s edge, catching more crabs and placing them in the bucket. They seemed so easy to hook, despite their formidable appearance.

I asked him why he did not close the bucket as the crabs might escape when he went to the sea to fish for more.

He was amused. “You must understand that these are crabs.”

Seeing I did not comprehend, he continued, “They are shallow creatures. If there is one crab in the bucket, it would crawl out easily. But if there are many crabs in the bucket, when one tries to crawl up, the others will pull it down so that they will all remain at the bottom.”

Zoe laughed. “Really? I never knew that! And oh dear, to think that crabs are so delicious.”

“Yes,” I said, “Good to taste, just don’t be a crab or you will get cooked and eaten. Besides, the meat is not good for the heart or the constitution in general. Taken infrequently and in small quantities, they are fine.”

So, ignore the crabs, be a performer, pray and trust in God. Look out for performers and form alliances with them to grow strong and achieve. Be fired up, propel ahead and get on with your business of taking the organisation to great heights.

Be happy always. Nothing is worth achieving if you are not happy.

“How does happiness go with the stress of striving for profitability?” Zoe enquired.

Perspective – it is all about perception. Here is an illustration:

An old dog saw a puppy chasing its tail and asked, “Why are you chasing your tail?” 

The puppy answered, “I have learnt that the best thing for a dog is happiness, and that happiness is in my tail. Therefore, I am chasing it; and when I catch it, I shall have happiness.”

The old dog responded, “I too have realised that happiness is in my tail. But I have noticed that when I chase after it, it keeps running away from me, but when I go about my business, it comes after me.”

What are you chasing? Look forward to what you have to do and get on with it. Get on with the business you were appointed to accomplish. Do your part to build the business, the country and the community.

Greatness emerges from consistently choosing to do what is right with great love and passion. Build on what works. Do not focus on the “I” because that will make you ILL. Focus on the “We” and you will be WELL.

Mildred Lopez is from the accountancy profession specialising in revenue law, forensic accounting and financial criminology. She uses her expertise on social innovations to nurture and capitalise on resources to provide creative solutions

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
11 Feb 2021 6.57am

I supposed Mildred’s narrative is applicable for the private sector.
I was in the education services of the public sector – if one is content with one’s station in life and does one’s duties to the best of one’s abilities, one can retire with peace of mind.

But there are those who wants to climb up the civil service ladder and any observer can see their antics – trying to climb over the backs of their trampled down colleagues, the backbiters and backstabbers. But the saddest part is the HODs who are only too happy to let these crabs run the show.

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