“People are whos, not its, and it is therefore unacceptable to produce business results at their expense.”
Those of you who have read my book Heretics to Heroes know I made that declaration about 25 years ago in front of 600 of the most senior managers in my company. You also know that if it were left up to most of the audience, I would have been burned at the stake.
What I did not share in the book is when I came to this realization––one that every All-In™ Leader must acquire during their leadership journey.
In my book and in past posts, I’ve shared that I held a man’s hand while he died on the job, and that I played a significant role in causing his death. I’ve also explained that research has shown how easily we can objectify human beings and rationalize away their suffering in service of political, religious, social, or business goals.
Despite that experience and knowledge, the moment I fully realized that people are whos, not its, and that it’s unacceptable to produce business results at the expense of either occurred while I was watching an episode of Star Trek. Never underestimate the likelihood of an epiphany to strike anytime, anywhere.
In the episode, Data––an android and senior officer on the starship Enterprise––has broken a statute called the Prime Directive of the Federation, which prohibits interfering with the natural evolution of planets. Unbeknownst to his colleagues, Data had begun corresponding as a “radio pal” with a little girl named Sarjenka, who lives on Drema IV, a planet where the inhabitants remain unaware of extraterrestrial life.
Drema IV is facing a global geological disaster that will likely kill her and all of her kind within days. She has radioed Data for help.
Data knows that the Enterprise possesses the technology to save Sarjenka’s planet. He also knows that stepping in would be another violation of the Prime Directive. Not sure what to do, he summons the senior staff to discuss an appropriate response to Sarjenka’s plea.
That scene had a profound effect on me. It hinges upon a critical moment when the staff stops relating to Sarjenka as an “it” and sees her as a “who.” Watch it below and see if you can spot the change––and the effect it has on the staff’s decision.