Leadership That Matters, Part 3

We can absolutely take altruism to be an effective form of leading, because if practiced to a certain extent, there are benefits in doing so.  There is a documentary I have referenced in Firehouse Zen several times: I Am. The movie, by Tom Shadyac, makes the point that we are all interconnected, and by that very reason, stand to benefit by practicing more understanding behavior toward others.  What benefits all of us, benefits every one of us.  But this might be a little too zen for you all, and since the thoughts I share here are nothing new, just my own take on interpreting them, let's try illustrating the efficiency of altruistic behavior though more concrete means.

Every now and then, it is my responsibility to take Caroline, my middle daughter, to school.  For many reasons I could get into, but won't because I have my own reasons as well, there are a large number of children who are driven to school by parents in the morning.  And while we could discuss any number of other methods to make things more effective, it is the behavior of the adults in this particular scenario that I want to use for illustration (so while I know there are many other solutions, I'm just trying to show you something).

Picture this: The driveway in front of the school causes you to pull up past the front doors, then the "drop off zone" angles away at 90 degrees from that spot for about 300 feet. At the end it doubles back and you drive out the way you came in.  Therefore, the drop off zone, which is on the side going away from the front of the building, can accomodate at least 10 cars, if not more.  The idea is that the first car pulls to the end of the zone and nine other cars pull in behind it and discharge their passengers.  Then the first car pulls away and everyone follws, permitting the next ten cars in line to pull up.  Pretty easy directions to follow if you do it every day.

While this seems to be pretty easy, it must not be.  Without fail, every morning I happen to be in the line, I observe that virtually every parent will stop at the first point (at the front doors) and discharge their child.  Subsequently, none of the other nine spaces are being used.  Car after car discharges their children in this method one or two or three at a time at the front door. Frequently, as the morning progresses, parents get fed up with waiting in the line and discharge their children even earlier than at the front doors.  In this area there is no sidewalk, so to complicate things, now there are young children weaving in and out of cars, and further disrupting the process. It so happens that to drop your kids off this way means a shorter walk for young Spaulding: from Point A (the stop at the front door) to Point B (the front door).  The result, however, is a very long line of impatient, self-important, thoughtless parents.

One afternoon I gave up on the line and parked a block away and walked to get my daughter, passing all the angry, fed-up parents. As I got to where all the children were awaiting pickup, one of the teachers recognized me. While waving another car toward the special spot (that was being ignored) she said, "You know, you are probably one of the only parents who actually drives to the end of the drop off zone.  Caroline doesn't need to walk that far."  I am probably THE ONLY parent who goes to the end of the drop off zone, but therein lies my point.   Lets' look at this situation from the perspective that if we sacrifice a little, a lot can be gained.

Look at this from a simple equation: If "x" equals the number of available spots to discharge passengers, and "y" equals the average number of passengers discharged at each spot, doesn't it make sense that increasing the number of spots also increases the number of discharged passengers?  So if we can say:

xy = number of passengers discharged per minute

any increase in x will increase the total number of people being discharged per minute.  Therefore, if we used ALL TEN SPOTS, we would have a TEN-FOLD INCREASE in the number of people being discharged per minute.  Most of us would look at that and say, "Wow, that's a pretty substantial increase!" In fact, this would then result in everyone getting out of this drop off zone a lot quicker.  However, there's where the selfishness kicks in: young Spaulding shouldn't have to walk an extra 250 feet, the parent rationalizes.  "Why if I let him out right here in front, it doesn't inconvenience me, as he is out of my hair that much quicker, and who cares about those other schmucks behind me?" So we get one car at a time, putting their kids out directly in front of the doors.

See what I mean?  And we can complain about how long it takes (parents do), we could post signs (the school has), we could have someone out there to tell people to move up (they do), and none of it would make a difference, because it doesn't already.  This isn't brain surgery we are talking about here.  This is simple logic.

Unfortunately, people don't respond to logic.  And while I hate to be wasting your valuable day laying out this scenario, it will come into play throughout this series.  So take notes, comprehend the situation, and we'll see where altruism takes us.

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