Drowning at Your Post

Accountability Organizational leadership Teamwork


“One of the most heroic examples of community spirit was 24-year-old Miki Endo, who used the loudspeaker system in Minamisanriku, [Japan] a fishing port close to the focus of the 9.0 earthquake, to urge residents to do what they could to escape the incoming tsunami. She drowned at her post. Television footage shows the rising sea approaching, with her haunting voice echoing over the waves. More than 1,000 of the town’s 18,000 residents died.”

This is a quote from a recent article in the Economist about leadership and response during and after the horrendous earthquake and Tsunami in Japan.

Thankfully, daily work life for most of us has little to do with putting our lives at risk. Hopefully none of us will be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice and demonstrate the incredible heroism of Miki Endo. However, I sometimes feel that people in companies are standing at their posts with loud speakers and warning of impending dangers. They call out repeatedly. Are we listening? How do they feel when we don’t? What are the consequences?

I recently observed this “drowning at your post” syndrome in a customer service situation. Customers were calling in and well-intended caring people at the front desk were doing everything to be helpful. But, the customer response system was broken and the plea for help from the first responders went nowhere. Customers felt abandoned and so did the people on the front lines. I believe if you “put your antenna up” and really listen, there is likely someone with a loudspeaker asking for help or announcing a coming storm around you at work right now. What are they saying? Do they feel that anybody is listening? Do they metaphorically feel like they’re drowning at their posts?

Character Move:

  1. Really listen and ask yourself, “Who around me (maybe it’s me) is sending out warning signals or calls for help? What are they really saying?”
  2. Ask yourself what you can do to help. Do not avoid it and assume it’s just someone “crying wolf” or say it’s “not my job” to respond.
  3. Do not let people “drown at their posts.” Often just acknowledging that you are listening, and starting a conversation, is enough to get the action wheels rolling.
  4. Remember that to keep the early warning system working well, we need to be responsive to each other at work. It is our workplace. It is our village.
  5. Do not wait for people at the top to get it and respond. They’re often too late, slow, or deaf.

Listening at you Post in the Triangle,