With all of the talk about “American Greatness”, I was reminded of a great example of people choosing leadership that reflected their values. I think that if we learned how to value ourselves, leadership who valued us would naturally emerge from among us. Check out this example and let me know what you think. In light of companies like Wells Fargo, that we allow to abuse us, I think remembering the difference everyday people can make might inspire us. I posted the following blog on Linkedin a little more than two years ago.
Pride. Is that what you would expect to feel when you walk into your local grocery store to buy some groceries and find that none of the vegetables that you want are there, there’s no fruit—even your favorite protein drink is out of stock? Perhaps that would not be the typical response. More than likely, most of us would merely feel inconvenienced. And perhaps that’s what I would have felt too, were it not for the reason that the shelves were empty.
If you’re from New England then chances are that you are aware of the strike that many of the Market Basket employees initiated at the revelation that their beloved CEO Arthur T. Demoulas had been deposed recently. In an act of solidarity uncharacteristic of non-unionized workers, people from across the employment spectrum came together to make their voices heard. “Give us back our CEO!” When I first heard the people at Market Basket went on strike I did not know the backstory (see link above). I assumed that years of being treated unfairly had reached a tipping point and that now the union was taking action. When I heard it was actually the opposite, all I could do was smile.
Entering the world at the tail end of the most visible time of the civil rights movement, I grew up with stories of sit-ins and protests and other forms of civil disobedience. When it came to the obvious tensions of that time, I was close enough to smell the smoke but too far to see the fire. As a result, I inherited a strong sense of justice and a curiosity about what made the people before me decide that they were willing to put themselves on the line for what they believed. I have always hoped that if the situation ever called for it, I would have the courage to stand up for the future the way those before me did for my generation.
Now some people may not see the people at Market Basket as standing up for future generations. The more cynical among us may think that they should just get back to work and stock our veggies. But if you examine it just a little, there’s so much more to the story. From what I have read, the employees at MB were treated well, the stores are profitable, and they were able to keep costs down for the consumers. This is something that most companies cannot boast about. It is typical that something gets sacrificed for the sake of the others. I’d say that 2 out of the three is the norm. Then there the companies that manage to survive on only being 1 out of the 3 (profit). And believe it or not, in our current system there are even organizations that are basically zombie companies because they are actually functioning at 0 out of 3. In that light, Market Basket’s 3 out of 3 score card is something to believe in. So at the end of the day, when these employees stand up for what their CEO symbolizes to them, they are in some way holding all of us accountable for the types of companies we allow to shape our world. And, I deliberately say “allow”, because when you look at the empty shelves and parking lots at these grocery stores no one in their right mind would say that these protesters aren’t an influence.
When I looked into the faces of those multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, protesters who also live at various levels across the economic spectrum, yes, I did feel pride. Sure, all I did was go to another grocery store and pay more for my avocados and lemonade, but when I did, I felt like I was a part of something. I think I felt this, because humans are hardwired to both believe and to be a part of something larger than themselves. Just think about it. What company didn’t start with a belief? And in those early days, what attracted others to that virtually non-existent entity other than more people catching the belief. And then, being fueled by that relational drive that is the impulse for all increase those people contributed their energy into seeing that belief take form in the world.
Just like Market Basket didn’t start out as a multi-billion dollar grocery chain, none of our organizations were created fully formed. They started with a belief. It was what got the company started and it is what will keep it going. Like the cartoons teach our children about fairies, Santa Claus, and all of the other creations of fantasy, when we stop believing, the things we once believed in disappear. As Market Basket shows, despite the history of the company’s family feuds, in the policies and practices of Arthur T., a large portion of their employees were given something to believe in. And as so many of us know, people will fight for what they believe in. But when they stop believing… I don’t know what Arthur T. feels about all this. But my hope is that he feels pride. Not pride in what he has done or pride in the fact that he has so many people in his corner, but rather that humble pride that comes from knowing that you are part of something that is bigger than yourself and that when you don’t forget those who believed in your dream, those who believed won’t forget you.