How do we nurture involvement?

Author: Alain Bejjani — CEO, Majid Al Futtaim — Holding

Recently, two people I don’t know, have never met and who are at opposite ends of the age spectrum gave me something to think about.

The first is a 10-year old, Tani Adewumi, a Nigerian refugee who was living in a homeless shelter in New York City when he became a chess champion in 2019. Last month, he became a national chess master.

The second is Asfaw Yemiru, who passed away last month, in his late 70s, after founding and leading one of Ethiopia’s best schools for poor children. The Economist reported that more than 120,000 men and women have passed through his school, once a collection of shacks put together by this man who lived on the streets as a child and taught scores of other impoverished children at just 14 years old.

Each of these individuals is undoubtedly driven and undeniably gifted, with talent, remarkable courage and determination at the very least. But as NYT columnist Nick Kristof wrote of Tani: Talent is universal, but opportunity is not. In both situations, others played a role in their success — teachers, family members, complete strangers who lent a hand. Because others got involved, many lives were changed.

In 2020, we saw levels of involvement like never before, on a local, regional and international scale, as the global community rallied to fight Covid together. Involvement is equally critical in the business world. By pooling capabilities, we were able to achieve things that were orders of magnitude higher than anything we’ve done before. How do we maintain this going forward, how do we harness the power of involvement to turn our teams and our people from spectators to drivers?

Part of the answer is, of course, to be involved. Involved in each other’s lives so that we can spot and develop talent, involved in our customers’ lifestyles and our communities so we can anticipate needs and formulate solutions, involved in understanding aspects of the business other than our own so we can understand how the whole fits together and how it can be improved.

Part of the answer also lies in attitude. Involvement must work in multiple directions — it requires both courage to speak and take a chance, openness to ideas and constructive feedback, and the generosity and grit to carve out and extend opportunities for ourselves and others. Far too often, we hesitate to highlight another’s talent or idea out of fear of the relative cost to us. For that to change, it must be enabled by companies at every level and absorbed by individuals across the board.

We also need to get past some of our outdated thinking about what we can and can’t contribute — for example, as this useful article explains, your idea doesn’t need to be original to be successful, it just has to be smart and agile.

I am convinced that involvement is the differentiator between true ownership and basic participation; and that involvement can reap rewards far beyond our own spheres, as both young Tani and Mr. Yemiru proved.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on how we can encourage it.

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