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I shared the story below before in this column, but I often remember it around this time of the year and in its turn it reminds me of the many opportunities that come our way every day to extend a helping hand, to make a difference – opportunities that we so often miss. Some years ago, when I lived and worked in Nairobi with my family, I got stuck in the traffic on my way home. I can’t really say I got stuck though; the traffic in front of me was slow, which was not unusual in those days but also not that common as it is today. Those of us, who have the opportunity to travel to other cities sometimes, realise that traffic in Addis Abeba is nothing compared with the jams elsewhere. Anyway, let us go back to where I began. The road I was driving on is not too far from where I lived and before reaching home it descends and after hitting the lowest point, it ascends again quite steeply. Although I could not yet see what it was that hindered traffic, it was obviously something happening at the lowest point or shortly thereafter as I saw cars go around an obstacle. As I got closer, I now saw that it was a man with a bicycle, who was not moving anywhere and all other traffic had to go around him indeed, which was not easy with the un-coming traffic not giving much way either. Coming closer still, I noticed that drivers in front of me had become quite upset about the situation and impatiently and angrily hooted at the man with his bicycle. Finally I could see what his problem was. The man had tightened four crates of soft drinks on the carriage of his bicycle, which had become too heavy to cycle up against the hill, so he had to push it. On top of the bottles he had placed plastic bags with ice cubes. He must have been on his way to deliver cold drinks to some place to make a few shillings and provide for his family. This was his livelihood in other words. Now, while pushing his bicycle up against the hill, it became difficult to maintain its balance and in fact, some of the icepacks fell off on the road and tore open, scattering the ice around. While the man was holding on to his bicycle, he looked around to the ground where his ice lay and wondered if there was any way to rescue it. There was no way. He had to hold on to his bicycle, otherwise it would fall and he could not hold on to it and pick up the ice at the same time. Pushing the bike off the road and parking it against a tree was no option either as he would now allow traffic to drive over and crush all the ice in a matter of seconds. So he was still standing there, wondering what to do, while drivers became ever more impatient and angry as he was hindering their smooth passage. So they honked their way past him. Now it was my turn. I felt sorry for the man but did what everybody else did and I steered my car around him, looking forward to be home soon, and leaving the man minding his own business. Once home, I wondered why I did like everybody else and why I did not stop my car in the middle of the road and help the man who was only trying to make his living and had some difficulty in doing just that. It would not have been a very difficult thing to do. I have regretted it ever since and sometimes I hope that I will come across the same situation and make good for it.
But although the situation will never repeat itself again, I have come to realise that similar situations occur every day and all the time. It happens at home, on the street, at work, everywhere. While we are minding our own business, we often overlook it and miss countless opportunities to extend a helping hand and provide a little support even when not asked for. Taking this to the work place and to management, how would this then help us in doing business? First of all we need to remind ourselves that all workers play a role in achieving the mission and results of the organization or company. Where some workers or departments are weak in playing their part, the whole business will suffer. It is therefore in the company’s interest that management identifies weaknesses and provides support. This could be in the form of training (formal or on the job), coaching, additional resources, incentives or simple recognition and appreciation for efforts made. By doing so, management will play a role model and create a culture in which it becomes the norm for workers to help each other where and when so required instead of sticking to a limited job description. Minding your own business is a negative way of perceiving the work that needs to be done and works against achieving results consistently and thus against the interest of the company. Remember that 1+1=3. In other words, joint efforts will accomplish a whole lot more than all individual efforts combined.
The man with the bicycle probably delivered his soft drinks but never managed to deliver them cold as he was expected to, because of some difficulties he faced on the way. With a little help from anybody who happened to be around, he would have been able to accomplish his mission. Very often we are just that anybody.