If you caught even a few minutes of the Democratic National Convention, you most likely heard and saw the words “change maker.” Last year, it was social entrepreneurs – those who establish an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems or effecting social change – which morphed into social intrapreneurs – agents of change working to align corporate ethnography with society values from the inside out. And, while many lament that there could not be a climate less hospitable to positive change than the big corporation, others are experiencing corporate shifts toward principles of purpose, stewardship, and the kind of leadership that creates financial, intellectual, social, cultural, emotional, and ecological wealth for all their stakeholders.
This week, it’s a political sound byte, but the premise is that change makers have the power to change the world.
Pretty idealistic? If you’re rolling your eyes about now thinking that you can’t change the world or even your company, take a good, long introspective look at yourself. Are you a change maker? We all have to power to be one. Some people create change without knowing it. Others create change with meaningful intention. This whole concept was personified in living color last week during a business trip.
If you travel at all for business, you know that it’s much different than holiday travel. The little things don’t seem to bother us so much when we’re heading off to spend a week sipping umbrella drinks. Work travel is different. While I love what I do, there are times when it can be exhausting and little irritations can so easily seem bigger than they really are. Last week was one of those weeks. After I crisscrossing the country from SW Florida to San Francisco to Boston over four days, I was only halfway there.
By the time I arrived in Boston, I had been in the same clothes for 14 hours, my feet hurt, and my bags felt at least 20 pounds heavier. All I wanted to do was get checked in, change into my comfy clothes, get room service, and regroup for my next speaking engagement. Room service, I was told, was not available that evening, but the “marketplace” (aka snack bar) was open for another 20 minutes. Begrudgingly, my hunger won, and I went downstairs. I admit, I was a little irritated.
When I got to the marketplace, the young 20-something man behind the counter was singing… yes, singing, out loud to music only he could hear through the earbuds in his ears. As I approached, he flashed a wide smile and continued singing… serenading me. It was impossible not to smile back. I ordered a chicken panini. He told me it would be a few minutes because he had already started breaking down the kitchen. He must have recognized my “weary traveler” look, and he said, “I promise it will be worth the wait! I make a 5 star chicken panini!” He popped his earbuds back in and danced his way into the back.
I smiled again, took a seat, and as I waited, I noticed my irritation dissipate. Here was a kid who was probably making a few bucks above minimum wage happy to be a work and taking pride in his job. When my sandwich was ready, he brought it around to me. “Sorry for the wait,” he said. “I hope this ends your day on a good note.”
One slice of humble pie, please…
He could have been pissed off at this lady who was ordering a panini at 5 minutes before closing time. But he wasn’t. He was a change maker in his little corner of the world. His attitude changed mine.
Fast forward to day six. I got up at 3:30 AM to make the last leg of the travel triangle back to SW Florida. It had been a productive, rewarding week. But, I was whipped and all I wanted to be was home. When I got to the packed gate for my connecting flight, the first thing I noticed was the agent. She looked like she wanted to be anywhere but there. Her expression, body language, and overall demeanor was a mix of contempt, anger and gloom. In fact, she looked like she hated not just her job, but her life.
As boarding time came and went, there was clearly an issue with the plane. The gate agent seemingly had no intention of informing the crowd what the problem was. As people approached with questions, she abrasively answered without making eye contact or even looking up from her computer. She regarded all of us with disdain for being there. After waiting for nearly 2 hours before finally boarding, I watched her sigh, roll her eyes, grumble and frown… a lot. But, I never saw her smile or display even a hint of a positive emotion. Not once. This was the face that the company put in place to serve their customers. (Maybe one of the grown-ups at American Airlines will catch this post, but I digress… this one isn’t about them.)
Just like the young man at the marketplace, this gate agent had a choice when she got out of bed that morning. She could choose to take pride in her job, find satisfaction in the impact she has on others, and project positivity. Or she could choose to promulgate her negativity with everyone she meets. Beyond being a horrible representative for American Airlines, that woman squandered her power to be a change maker.
We all have the power to be change makers. Change makers aren’t just defined by not-for-profits or large-scale revolutions. A change maker is anyone who desires a change in the world and makes that change happen. Change makers are the driving forces behind social evolution. They recognize that they, in fact, have the power to be the change they wish to see in the world.
The biggest difference between the kid at the marketplace and the woman at the gate is that he doesn’t expect the world to change for him; he acts to make his corner of the world better. He may not know that laughter and smiles are contagious. He may not know that stress and negativity are also contagious. But, today he recognizes that he can impact the experiences of others in a positive way. With a little more knowledge, experience, and determination, who knows what he’ll accomplish tomorrow? I’d put him in front of my customers over the gate agent every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Everyone can be a change maker. Why not start today?
And, for the record, that was the best damn chicken panini ever!
You might also enjoy reading Is the Life You’re Living Worth the Price You’re Paying?
Dr. Melissa Hughes is the President and Founder of The Andrick Group. Melissa specializes in growing our capacity to learn as well as employee engagement, effective communication strategies, and the unique dynamics of the multi-generational workforce. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies that impact how organizations think, learn, communicate and collaborate.