If relations in your workplace are less than neighborly, think back to what the TV icon Mr. Fred Rogers taught American children for generations.
At least that is what Ian and Donna Mitroff suggest in their new book, “Fables and the Art of Leadership: Bringing the Wisdom of Mr. Rogers to the Workplace.” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
Ian Mitroff says that the office, often considered a metaphorical extended family, has become an impersonal and sometimes rude system of virtual organizations that leave workers unsatisfied. Case in point: According to the Conference Board, only 50 percent of Americans are happy with their jobs.
“We need to start creating personal connections again and understand that workplaces, like neighborhoods, are made up of real, living, breathing people with diverse and complex needs,” says Mitroff, an organizational theorist, consultant and emeritus professor from the University of Southern California.
Donna Mitroff worked directly with Rogers for decades while director of educational services at the Pittsburgh public television station, WQED, where his production company is based. She has long respected the depth of his messages and their ability to help foster the emotional health and well-being of children.
“His stories are just as relevant to adults because people want to find meaning and purpose in their work lives, in addition to making money,” she says.
In their book, the Mitroffs, of Oakland, Calif., share stories told by Rogers in his longtime PBS show “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.” They derive from the seven principles for human interaction in the workplace and use quotes from Rogers to explain each one.
1. Connect: A person can grow to his or her fullest capacity only in mutually caring relationships with others.
2. Concern: “Setting rules is one of the primary ways in which we show our love.”
3. Creativity: “Play is the expression of our creativity, and creativity, I believe, is at the very root of our ability to learn, to cope and to become whatever we may be.”
4. Communication: “In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts, and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”
5. Consciousness: “Take good care of that part of you where your best dreams come from, that invisible part of you that allows you to look upon yourself and your neighbor with delight.”
6. Courage: “One of the greatest paradoxes about omnipotence is that we need to feel it early in life, and lose it early in life, in order to achieve a healthy, realistic, yet exciting sense of potency later on.”
7.Community: “All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors: In our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.”
Ian Mitroff explains that the order of the principles proceeds from the most basic and concrete to the more complex. The goal is to elevate the metaphoric view of organizations as neighborhoods where the inhabitant know one another yet respect the others’ personal space and privacy.
“More importantly, a neighborhood becomes a community when people cooperate for the good of everyone and when they accept responsibility for their roles and tasks in support of the neighborhood,” he says.
The Mitroffs describe scenes and characters from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood to make the point that neighborhoods are made up of diverse types of people, just like in any workplace. The characters experience a wide range of emotions and handle them in constructive ways, as should be done in the workplace.
Organizations must be reconceptualized as neighborhoods or they will not be able to compete successfully in the new global economy because both technical and personal skills are needed, Ian Mitroff adds.
He refers to surveys in which business leaders show concern about interpersonal skills among their employees, such as their inability to accept supervision and personal responsibility, to work well with diverse types of people, and to resolve conflicts and express feelings and thoughts in appropriate ways.
“If we study and apply the principles – and treat each with care, dignity and respect – we can turn our workplaces into neighborhoods and enjoy much more satisfying experiences,” Ian Mitroff says.