Tim McGuire, past president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune

January 14, 2022

Treat others like eagles; they’ll soar

By the time I was 22, I had already had considerable journalism experience, and I had some solid references endorsing my ability. But when I took a job in the Detroit metropolitan area, I ran into a supervisor who thought I was useless. Nothing I did was right. I didn’t gather facts to the supervisor’s satisfaction and I couldn’t write a lick in her view. I was on the brink of getting fired when she went on vacation. Her boss took over for two weeks and at the end of that time he walked past my desk and said, “There’s nothing wrong with you; you’re fine.”

Five months later my supervisor was promoted and asked me to go with her!

This same phenomenon can occur in any industry. An employee can be assigned the wrong supervisor and life can become miserable. The classic explanation is “personality conflict.”

Some psychologists would probably argue there’s a misplaced power dynamic at play and the supervisor is hard on the employee because the supervisor has the power.

If you look at this problem from a spirituality and work perspective, it’s pretty obvious the supervisor is not treating the employee the way the supervisor would like to be treated. It’s not a lot more complicated than that.

With few exceptions, every employee has special things to contribute to the organization, but we often don’t look hard enough for those special gifts.

Anthony de Mello, the late Jesuit priest from India, tells the story of a young boy who picked up a golden eagle egg and put it in the chicken house. The hens sat on the egg until it hatched and then they raised the eagle as a chicken. One day the eagle saw a beautiful golden eagle flying through the sky. He asked the chicken next to him what kind of bird was flying so gracefully. The chicken replied, “That’s an eagle. We could never fly like that.” The eagle wistfully agreed. That eagle lived and died thinking like a chicken. Nobody ever told him he could fly.

We often judge people to be chickens. We never release them to be the eagles they would love to be.

DeMello relates another story about an American research study in which I.Q. tests were administered to all the children in a certain school. The researchers then told the teachers a certain 10 kids were gifted. In fact, the students were randomly chosen and were not really gifted. But at the end of the year the I.Q. of each of those 10 kids had risen at least 10 points and some had risen as much as 36 points. The teachers believed in those kids and invested a lot of special effort in them.

They treated them like geniuses. They flew like eagles.

How many of the people you work with could be eagles if you stopped treating them like chickens?

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