A tribute to the invisible lifter

August 2019, my colleagues, Mirjam Ottens, Sven Turnhout and Marleen van de Westelaken and I joined 42 students for a leadership course at the HAN University of Applied Sciences, Arnhem, the Netherlands.

We started this one year learning adventure together. Corona gave that a special twist. With people who were active on the front line, with people who had to work from home and everything in between. Since we could no longer meet, we started writing chain letters to each other. What emerged exceeded all of our expectations from very small personal stories to big, important breakthroughs. As teachers, we have tried to summarize this special year in 4 short speeches. My story was about the invisible lifter: 

An organization is a Chart /Rake-Model. You have people who are at the top of the organization and people at the bottom. Those at the top- level get more privileges, literally: a car or even a personal driver; better salary; a more spacious office or your own office; they can more often be found on a stage or in the headlines of newspapers. Those from the top think that those from the operations do not understand. Those from the operations complain that those at the top-level do not understand.

An organization is also a building, with security gates, passes, and guards if it is very large. And where you have to check every time if there is a clear desk in the office space available for you if you are a bit late.

An organization is also a functional organization with clear lots with functions and formulated assignments and bonus structures. Where you are asked a few times a year in performance and appraisal interviews to be accountable to a boss, who is accountable to his/her boss and so on. So, we are back to that organizational chart or the monkey rock! 

But what makes an organization worthwhile is the people who work there, with which you have fun and pleasure, with which you get a job done, and with which you can share on Monday morning that something beautiful or sad has happened at home. Do you think it is really possible to separate work life from private life?

And that is why I want to pay a tribute to the invisible lifters. We often don't see them, but we feel them even more, especially when they are not around. Those are the people who see you and really want to hear your story, one arm around your shoulder, a wink, a meaningful look, or a WhatsApp message. Who attends the funeral of a dear family member, who you can tell your story to, who you can cry out to if you have experienced something unpleasant in a meeting. We feel it deeply in our hearts when we have to say goodbye to them when they leave for another job. Just like a friend is leaving. (Luckily you can stay friends outside of work).

Yesterday, one of the students, a team leader of the nurses on on the covid 19 IC unit came to me. She gave me a small wooden elephant and thanked me for our collaboration. It was very informally given to me, no podium or stage, no big gesture in a group ceremony. For me, it was the symbolization of how we have worked together as a group over the past year. I was so touched that I showed it to my wife, Jorja, and kids.

That is why this is a tribute to the invisible lifter that helps you through the difficult moments. But also, to shed light on the small and the invisible things who are hardly noticed in organizations, because that often contains the real value!

Theo Hermsen
IMC Netherlands, Ooa