Cummings: Workforce hero

October 13, 2013 

Have you got one? You know, somebody you admire and look up to; somebody special at work who always seems on top of things. Might be a man or a woman, a manager or peer; might even be someone who reports directly to you. The status matters little. It’s what they do and say that makes them heroes.

Think about humility. When we first moved to Georgia in 1975, I was hired as a vice president of Charter Medical Corporation and Stan reported to me. I was in charge of the whole Department of Human Resources, and I soon realized that Stan knew much more about this field than I did. But he never embarrassed me in public; he never showed me up in meetings; he never led me down a slippery slope -- and he could have done all those things. Instead, he helped me learn, silently and quickly. Stan was my hero.

Who’s your hero?

Think about optimism. When everyone else is complaining about low salaries and poor supervision and lack of promotions, who’s talking about our chances for the next project? When no one thinks we can do it, who just plows ahead and does it? I’m sure pilots all over the country would have debated about the wisdom of landing a wounded plane in the Hudson River. Not Sully. With both engines out, this cool-headed Capt. Chesley Sullenberger maneuvered his crowded jetliner over New York City and ditched it in the frigid Hudson River, and all 155 on board were pulled to safety as the plane partially submerged. Guess how many people think of Sully when they say hero,

Who’s your hero?

Think about tactful feedback. Who pulls you to the side and gently but firmly reveals your blind spots? When you make a bad mistake, when you embarrass a fellow employee, when you quote the wrong numbers to a prospective customer -- who corrects you in a way that eliminates any anger or defensiveness on your part? Good teachers do this as part of their profession, don’t they? I learned English grammar in sixth grade at St. Bride’s School because Sister Raphael was that kind of teacher. To this day, Sister Raphael is my hero.

Who’s your hero?

Think about accountability. All of us are given a certain amount of responsibility; you’ll find it in your title: salesman, receptionist, supervisor of maintenance, manager of accounting, director of finance, etc. We are responsible for a certain area of work. It’s our sandbox, as it were; we play here. But the question is: Who holds us accountable? Who sets the quotas, the targets, the outputs, and then holds us accountable in a way that inspires us to exceed? A bully will hold us accountable for impossible goals within our areas of responsibility, and then punish us for failing. A leader will spend unusual amounts of time to set mutually agreed upon goals, and then give us all the tools we need to succeed. Real leaders are heroes. Do you have a boss like this?

Who’s your hero?

Think about your workplace. The word “heroism” usually makes us think of outstanding bravery in battle, or courage and daring during a fire or hurricane. Our returning veterans will always be our heroes; the first responders to 9/11 also; no doubt about it. But we have plenty of brave and courageous people right here at work who do and say the right thing when others are too scared to speak. It takes heroism to ask questions about the “way we’ve always done it.”

So who’s your hero? Are you one?

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is

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