As we approached a group of small buildings huddled together, as if to protect themselves from the vast expanse of the Argentine Pampa, the dust whipped across the cracked pavement, trying to get our attention. The coyote of Ennio Morricone’s theme song, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” howled in my mind, triggered by the present scene. The buildings were the remnants of an old, but still functioning, train station and our visit to this isolated outpost of central Argentina would teach me a lesson about a basic need that all people have, the need for recognition.
Some colleagues and I were on an exploratory trip to check out the interior towns and villages of Argentina with the idea of possibly planting a new church for our mission organization. Thus far, all three of us had been amazed and pleased with the simplicity and downright neighborliness of the rural Argentine people. This train station in the middle of nowhere would prove to be no different.
British engineers in the early nineteenth century had undoubtedly built the antique railway station. As we approached the front entrance, the blazing sun was almost directly overhead, not a cloud in the sky. The heat pressed in on us like a living presence. We were ready to take a break from the long drive and this railway outpost looked like an interesting place to explore.
We were immediately greeted by one of the station attendants who had been sweeping the station’s rough-hewn wood porch with a broom that looked like someone had grabbed a handful of straw and bundled it together with a piece of wire. Grinning from ear to ear and with one tooth missing, the station attendant gave us a hearty “Bienvenidos a la Estacion de San Telmo!” (Welcome to Saint Telmo Station).
It was like taking a step into a time machine and reliving the Old West. The station master, dressed in his gray overalls with the company insignia above his shirt pocket, proudly gave us the grand tour. I don’t know the technical terms relevant to train stations; all I remember is heavy wrought-iron levers, the absence of anything like an electronic button or computer, etched letters and numbers on rusty iron plaques, and wood beams that looked like they could have been salvaged from the Niña, the Pinta, or the Santa María.
What surprised me the most, however, what astounded me, was what happened when I asked the station master if I could take a photo of his crew. They all smiled and gathered into a line on the station platform; there were about seven men altogether. As I was getting ready to take the shot, someone in the group shouted: “Dónde está José?” (Where is Jose?). One of them ran inside the station and dragged Jose out so he too could be in the photo. There they stood, at rigid attention as though they were welcoming the Generalisismo of the Argentina army.
Then it happened. Immediately after I snapped the shot, one of the men exclaimed: “Well imagine that; all the important things happen on our shift!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. The simple act of admiring their work and taking their photo meant so much to these men. It gave their isolated existence a sense of meaning and importance. They would be talking about this for weeks, maybe years, to come.
This reminded me of how critical it is to recognize people for their contribution to the success of an organization, no matter how menial their job may appear to the status and power-seekers of our world. A thank you, a public mention, a photo to include in the company newsletter, a pat on the back, taking a moment of your time to listen to their ideas, these simple gestures may seem like trivialities to you, but may cause your employees to feel like the time they give to your company is both meaningful and also valuable.
Greg Waddell provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.