Anagnorisis is the moment when a character in a play or other creative work makes a critical discovery. In his Poetics, Aristotle defined it as a “change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined by the poet for good or bad fortune.” For Captain James “Bugger” Staros, played by Elias Koteas, in the film Thin Red Line, this moment comes after clashing with his superior, Lieutenant Colonel Tall (Nick Nolte), over his glaring disregard of Staros’s men. Despite the causalities that they were enduring, Tall orders Staros to engage in a full-frontal attack on a Japanese stronghold at the top of a strategically advantageous hill. Their radio exchange is fiery, but Staros ultimately refuses to proceed with the order and offers an alternative strategy of attack. The remaining soldiers of his company are spared on account of his obstinacy, but it’s not without repercussions for Staros himself. Following the battle, Tall relieves Staros of his command, telling him that he doesn’t have the mental fortitude required for combat. While packing his belongings for reassignment, Staros shares a revelation with his men who sought to follow the protocol to have his command reinstated:
“There’s still time. We could file a complaint.”
“For what? What good would that do? Leave it alone. Let it lay. Ήσουν σαν τους γιους μου.”
“What does that mean, sir?”
“It means ‘You’ve been like my sons.’ You’re like sons to me. You are my sons, my dear sons. You live inside me now. I’ll carry you wherever I go.”
Staros’s personal discovery on the eternal connection he created with his men by virtue of their experience together demonstrates the impact that relationships have in our lives and those around us. Relationships and developing that sense of a personal community is certainly important to each of us, but to what extent (if at all) is it relevant to the workplace? The American drama series, The Sopranos, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. While attending a New York film festival commemorating its anniversary, the cast and producers took questions and reflected on the show. Although there were points of contention during its eight-year run, such as the choice of the final scene’s song (“Don’t Stop Believin’,” by Journey), no one disagreed with the show’s creator David Chase when he said that what he enjoyed the most was “the people I got to know, and going to work and solving problems together [with them].” Interestingly, Chase did not mention money, fame, or the 21 Primetime Emmy Awards and 111 nominations that the series amassed; instead, he emphasized the gratitude he had of how the show brought people together—something that took some of the audience members by surprise. Indeed, Chase spoke about purposefully not reading too many reviews when the show was renewed following the first season. He remained aloof as a “boy in the bubble” and mentioned that he was not entirely certain about how the show was being received, but when he learned that there were “Soprano parties” that brought people together on Sunday evenings, it gave him immense happiness. Steven Van Zandt, who played the character Silvio Manfred Dante, said that the kinship on the set amounted to a kind of a second family. Van Zandt emoted about the metamorphosis that occurred in the actors as professionals but, more importantly, as human beings as a result of having worked and grown together.
Relationships—temporary as they are, in what part do they remain with us, if at all? Is the idea of developing good working relationships much ado about nothing vis-à-vis the impact it has on those with whom we are socially located? In The Thin Red Line, Staros seems to have made quite the difference such that it changed him; thus, the relationship had a permanency. But that was a fictional character under the kind of circumstances most people thankfully never experience. The cast and creators responsible for the portrayal of the characters in The Sopranos, however, revealed that working with one another is what they ultimately valued the most and it changed them. Does the same hold true for the court management profession or is it derivative of only those industries requiring an acute intensity or in those experiences that are in themselves life changing? How much difference can the court manager really make in the professional lives of those she is leading?
Toni and I were meeting at Twelve Islands, a favorite Greek taverna near the courthouse where I worked. When I arrived, Toni was seated with her back to the door speaking to Alexandros, the owner of the establishment. He saw me as I walked in and gleefully announced to Toni, “Ah—I see that your dining companion has made it!”
“Hey Toni, sorry I’m late,” I said as I walked past her and immediately greeted Alexandros. “How are you Alexandros—it’s been a long time.”
“Yes, it has been. I was beginning to worry that I had done something wrong,” he replied.
“Haha,” I chuckled, “Absolutely not—the stars just haven’t aligned for us to find our way to the finest Greek restaurant this side of the Atlantic; you know better than anyone else how the days turn into weeks and then months,” I said.
“Yes, yes—I do. You’re here now and that’s what’s most important. Your waiter will be with you in a moment to start you off with our appetizer spreads while you decide. And I’ve already brought you a kettle of our Tsai Tou VouNou.”
“Perfect—this will hit the spot,” I replied. Toni was savoring some and poured me a cup as Alexandros walked into the kitchen situated behind the large fish aquarium that lined the back wall of the seating area. Tsai Tou VouNou, which translates to the tea of the mountain, is an herbal concoction that Alexandros touts as being the single healthiest thing anyone can drink. I don’t know if he’s right about that, but the subtle flavor of its citrus and mint blend together with an earthy tone that’s delicious.
As I cradled a vintage ceramic mug and gently sipped the infusion, Toni said, “No need to apologize.”
“Apologize?” I asked.
“Yes—you apologized for being late.”
“Right—yes. I’m going to use it as an excuse, but you know what they say about weddings and funerals.”
“I gather you saw lots of people you don’t often see?”
“Exactly,” I said.
“That’s generally how life is. We get busy in the day-to-day and there are few occasions when we’re actually able to pause and socialize. Funerals and weddings are two such occasions. How was it anyway?”
“As good as a memorial service could be I guess.”
“So there were lots of folks there?”
“There were, but to be honest with you, after working in the court for as many years as he did, I expected that there would be more.”
“Well, I’m sure the people that matter the most were there. And for those in which he made a difference and couldn’t make it, it’s all the same.”
“I’m not sure. My feeling is that if someone’s made that kind of difference at a place, it’s important to take the time to pay your respects.”
“Yes—but we don’t know all the circumstances that would have precluded someone who wanted to be there from not being there. And people handle grief differently; that could have played a factor in deciding not to attend.”
“That’s true, but it was still good to be there to celebrate his life,” I admitted.
“You cared for him?” Toni asked.
“I did—he was a wonderful colleague and friend, and I learned a great deal from him. He had an inquisitive mind, and he made me a better manager because of his genuine interest on whatever I was working on and was always willing to help.”
“I do recall you mentioning him by name on some of the bigger projects you managed over the years,” Toni said.
“I could go on and on, Toni, as you know, just talking about the professional ventures we went on together.”
“That too—I know you guys attended many conferences together. I regret not having the opportunity to meet him.”
“You would have liked him. Apart from all that, he was someone I was able to rely on as I navigated my career in the courts. He was a treasure trove of information, and if he didn’t know it off the top of his head, he could direct you where to look or who to ask.”
“He sounds like a great person to have known.”
“Yes—he was. I’ll miss him.”
“Would any of that have changed—your feelings about him—if you couldn’t make it today?” she asked.
“No, of course not. But I do see the point you’re trying to make, and I’d agree with you.”
“Before you agree, understand that the salient point in all of this is that before you began your career in the courts, you didn’t know him, correct?”
“Right,” I replied
“A fortuitous experience for you, having had the opportunity to learn from him. I don’t know what his official title was in the organization, but I can see he was a true leader because of his positive influence on you.”
“Indeed,” I said.
“Your presence at the memorial service is a nice gesture that I’m sure his family appreciated. But the more important thing is his presence in your mind—that which contributes to making you a better manager—and a better person, for that matter. So you know the best way to honor his life?”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“To work on being the same kind of positive influence in your relationships with others, so that you can have an enduring presence in their minds long after you’re gone.”
A manager who realizes the kind of impact she can have by cultivating her people becomes a true leader—one who lives on in the hearts and minds of those who had the benefit of knowing and working with her. A leader who serves in the genuine interest of others creates more leaders—not followers. The impression she leaves through her coaching and advice can, in fact, remain with someone as part of what the criminologist Lonnie Athens calls a person’s “phantom community” even when the manager herself is no longer physically present. The phantom community “refers to the audience of real or imaginary people whose conception … of communal life, especially our and other people’s place in it, we always hold close to our hearts and usually take for granted.” The concept is most often applied in explaining “violentization” (Athens’s theory on the causes of violence laid out in his books The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals and Violent Criminal Acts and Actors Revisited), but there is a universality to the idea such that different social experiences can become a part of a person’s self-image.
Although society comprises large aggregates of people, learning is an intimate process that occurs in smaller groups. These small groups can be classified as either a primary or secondary group. The primary group (the more influential of the two) includes one’s family and friends. The sociologist Charles Cooley refers to this group as the “springs of life.” Their values and attitudes become a part of a person’s thought processes and affect how they view and understand the world. Secondary groups are a larger and more indistinguishable type of group. These groups form due to specific roles, interests, and activities—including the workplace.
Within these groups lies Athens’s phantom community—significant others within broader society whose attitudes shape individuals. Athens submits that they could be members of one’s primary group but, more specifically, are denoted by the voices of past experiences, which significantly affect the individual. Athens advanced the idea that individuals internalize and come to incorporate the attitudes of significant others he refers to as “phantom companions.” He proposes that individual phantom communities are composed of phantom companions, which accounts for the variety of differences among people who inhabit the same corporeal environment.
Athens’s research shows that human behavior is precipitated by one’s self-portrait, which is cultivated by one’s phantom community. If we consider our most significant relationships (past and present), the impact of those interactions on us is at once realized. Indeed, with a modicum of focus, we can likely “hear” those significant others weighing in on our thoughts and actions. We are connected to them and carry them into our social experiences, irrespective if we understand that it is happening. Each of us play a part in the lives of those around us—some more significant than others. These connections that are made by virtue of us living and working in a social world shows that the manager’s role and impact is not inconsequential. Rather, experiences with one another demonstrate (in the end) that a soldier is like a son, a fellow cast member is akin to a brother or sister, and a manager is not simply a person overseeing the work of a team, but a trusted confidant, who can be an organizational figure of much greater importance. Ironically, the great “tragedy” is the absence of this revelation—the anagnorisis never occurs because the manager remains only that.
The anthropologist Jane Goodall once stated, “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” A manager can thus become a part of an individual’s primary or secondary group, but more importantly, she can also become a part of that proverbial sounding board—a phantom companion within the individual’s phantom community. It offers her an opportunity to make a profound difference in the lives of those she’s appointed to lead by becoming a connection within the circuitry of the individual that helps guide their present and future behavior.
In Metaphysics, Aristotle articulates beautifully on the oneness and interconnectedness that exists in nature (physis) of which we are all comprised: “All things [in the universe] are ordered together somehow, but not all alike … and the world is not such that one thing has nothing to do with another, but they are connected. For all are ordered together to one end … all share the good of the whole.” Thus, the Aristotlean manager may come to realize that the relationships we establish with those around us are perhaps the most important because ultimately those relationships will be all that remains. A good manager strives to add to those positive reflections from which employees draw inspiration. And in the best of cases it offsets and nullifies those negative experiences that we all have had in our individual journeys. Managing and nurturing the relationships of those under her guidance takes on a whole different meaning when she comes to the realization that the sum of people makes the person.
And those are just some of my musings on management.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Giuseppe M. Fazari has been musing about management concepts and practices throughout his career as an administrator, consultant, and academic. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.