Unsung heroes in business

8 September 2014
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MANILA, Philippines – There is nothing more inspiring than to meet heroes and talk about them — those who do incredible deeds and dazzle us with their acumen and courage. Heroes come in every facet of life, including business.

Do I have heroes in my business life? Yes, I do. And they are not of the “Courageous CEO who turned around the company” genre. My heroes are people I see every day — the unsung heroes of business. Here are my choices. These people inspire me every single day. And the shame of it is, I haven’t told them so. So let me fix that right now.

Unsung Hero Number 1: The single working mom. Society is simply not fair. A man can have children, go to work, travel heavily and nobody thinks a thing about it. He is labeled a “hardworking man.” But, more often than not, a woman chooses the same path, and is considered by many to be a “poor mother” or “neglecting her children.” The pressures on a working mother dwarf the pressures I live with as a male executive.

The real heroes are the women who juggle this yet don’t even have a support system of a spouse to help them. They go it alone. They are the breadwinner. The mother. The head of household. They do it all. And they keep their heads held high and they raise great kids despite it all. They deliver on their jobs with excellence. We should put every single working mom on a pedestal. We should even have a second “Mother’s Day” just for them. Every single day I see them juggle it all with absolute brilliance. And I am amazed and daunted. Absolutely heroes in every sense of the word. Give me the choice between two equals for a role in my organization and I choose the single mother every time. We never can have enough heroes to inspire us!

Unsung Hero Number 2: The OFW. On a superficial level, one can look at an OFW with a bit of envy. They go off to make a better wage, they get to see new places and travel. It can sound a bit inviting on the surface.

I was an OFW of sorts once. I left the Philippines in 2010 and left my family behind to work in Africa, 20 hours by plane away from Manila. I went from having a support system when I came home at night to a lonely apartment and cold sandwiches for dinner in front of the TV. I severely underestimated the difficulty of living in a split family. I went from seeing my kids daily to two or three times per year.

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I also had to learn how to live without my wife and family. And I did. And my family had to learn how to live without me. And they did. You can’t sit around every day pining for someone — life has to go on. But it’s irrefutable that it’s not good for a family to lose the sense of shared interdependency.

There is a price to pay for everything and as an OFW I paid an enormous price. The family dynamic was undermined and damaged relationships followed; a destroyed marriage was the result. Biggest mistake of my life, underestimating the cost of living split-family. To serve those I loved most, I also damaged my family along the way. It’s a no-win situation.

OFWs are heroes. To give their children and families the support they need, they risk losing the very people they serve: their families. They live an isolated life, far from those they love. They battle to acclimate in new countries and cultures. They work horrid long hours because they often “have nothing else to do.” It’s not a life of “more money” and “travel” but one of loneliness, sacrifice and risking losing what is most dear to you.

So let’s honor these unsung heroes all around us. The next time you are interviewing a single mom, and you worry about her ability to juggle it all, give her a shot and make her a job offer. She’s a hero. And she will surprise you!

Next time you are in the US, Dubai, or elsewhere and you meet a young OFW working to help his or her family, don’t just chat about Team Gilas or what province they hail from. Tell them how much you admire them for their courage and sacrifices for family and country. Tell them they are heroes.

Because that’s exactly what they are.

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