Home » Leadership » If Your Office is Lord of the Rings, Are You Gollum?

If Your Office is Lord of the Rings, Are You Gollum?

Information is my business. But as valuable as information is, if I’m not careful, my single-minded quest can slowly turn me into a devilish creature who cares only about himself.

Stacatto footsteps approached Chris’s office. They were mine. And they came with purpose: ask a question, get the answer, and do a quick 180 to my office to advance the ball.

Chris looked up from his desk and smiled. I blurted out my question without even bothering to step over the threshold of his office. I tapped my foot.

Chris greeted me warmly. Waved me inside. Asked me how I was doing today. And just when I thought Chris was about to give me the information I so desperately needed, he instead sidestepped my question and began telling me a story. Good news about his family. He was animated. Hands waving. Grin widening. Eyes wide with excitement.

This is not what I need. I need answers. I need INFORMATION. I need…

Suddenly my sad little mission came into full view. I suddenly saw myself as Gollum, creeping up on Chris as if he were Frodo the hobbit, and screeching, What has it got in its pocketses? My PRECIOUS!!

Before I even walked to his office, I had reduced Chris to an inanimate means to an end. But neither Chris nor I are inanimate. We are living beings designed to experience validation and companionship and gratitude and purpose and other immeasurables.

Yes, we serve a company with a bottom line at stake. But isn’t that bottom line best served when its parts move together in harmony? And those parts are people. And harmony requires being human – not just a hungry machine awaiting information and nothing more.

As Chris continued to share his story, I realized that this slice of time was not about me getting my precious. It was about validating a coworker by sharing in his story. It was about listening with eager patience instead of devaluing his humanity so I could get what I wanted. It was, and is, about strengthening a relationship, which in turn only aids the company when the two of us do depend on each other to get things done.

Our coworkers see us for who we are (even if we don’t). They hear it in the harshness or warmth of our voice on the phone, in the terseness or softness of our emails, in the body language of impatience or serenity.

The “I” in CIO is not the most important part of my title. The most important thing are the people who provide it, receive it, and govern it with me.

When we go home at the end of each day, will our fellow human beings at work remember us for the information or work that we squeezed from them, or for the life-affirming value we gave back to them?

Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be? – John Keating (Dead Poet’s Society)

Brian Shipman is the CIO of Heritage Auctions. He is also a published author and speaker. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter,


1 Comment

  1. Brian Howard says:

    Very well said. I can only hope that the people you work for understand that enough to allow you to take the extra time it takes to get the information rather than to squeeze it from them without a care in the world.

    I strongly believe that the person can tell you more than just words when you really listen. Sometimes, how that person delivers the information to you is what makes it valuable.

    Keep up the good work.

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