Like millions of other people last week, we celebrated the streaming release of Hamilton. If you’re not familiar with the Broadway musical juggernaut, it illustrates the story of Alexander Hamilton featuring a diverse cast who rap, sing, and dance their way through decades of the American Founding Father’s fast life.
As we watched the historic glorious spectacle unfold, we couldn’t help but notice how many of its themes translate to our current business environment. If you look closely, the musical provides a master class in emphasizing the need for positive workplace behavior. More than 200 years later, and in our current predicament of pandemic, racial tension, and political division, these reminders may not be self-evident.
Good thing we have Hamilton to remind us.
Who Was Hamilton?
Hamilton’s life – both professionally and personally - was tumultuous and chaotic. He was brilliant, though a narcissist. He was forced to concede and negotiate as he climbed the political ladder. Hamilton was also humbled more than once.
As former president Barack Obama said, Hamilton is a civics lesson we can’t get enough of.
We’re not the only ones inspired to examine Hamilton’s impact on our world and how successful, driven people navigate ambition with humanity. Author Carmine Gallo references the Lin-Manuel Miranda penned musical several times in his book, Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great. Gallo’s overarching theme? That Hamilton mastered the art of communication and persuasion in his work. Sometimes by being an obedient servant, sometimes by bullying his way into the room where it happened. Here are five ways Hamilton influences positive workplace behavior.
1. Listening is Your Biggest Asset
“Let me offer you some free advice,
- Aaron Burr, Sir
One of Hamilton’s larger storylines revolves around the relationship between Hamilton, the former Treasury Secretary, and Aaron Burr, a prominent lawyer and one of Hamilton’s closest frenemies. When the immigrant Hamilton first bursts onto the New York scene, he is brash, bold, and boisterous. Not at all shy about voicing his opinions and taking a stance.
Burr, conversely, is more grounded, methodical, and private. He asks more questions, digests information, and seeks clarity above sharing his stance. The two men, both attorneys, are equally book smart, but Burr is initially more respected as a lawyer because he listens well and desires to understand the full scope of an issue.
The lesson here, if we extrapolate this to the workplace, is it’s okay to be young, scrappy, and hungry, but the skill of active listening cannot be underestimated. Active listening is hearing not only the words your colleagues are saying but understanding the complete message being communicated. It’s listening to obtain information and learn the motivation or reason behind words. It’s not about formulating a counter argument or reacting with your own opinion. Active listening is a key component to practicing empathy, a quality every workplace can benefit from when times are tough.
2. Be Your Best, Even at Your Worst
“Alexander, rumors only grow
And we both know what we know.”
- We Know
Hamilton messed up. He stepped out on his wife and carried on a years-long affair with another woman, all the while paying the woman’s husband hush money to keep it quiet.
But as most secrets do, this one burn-ed a hole in the pockets of those who knew, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Burr – men who all had a complicated relationship with Hamilton. The three went to the now Treasury Secretary and accused him of embezzlement.
Hamilton defended himself – not necessarily for the cheating, but for the payouts. And he had the ledger from his own personal funds to prove it.
Armed with this information, the trio of men could have gone straight to the press with this major sex scandal. Instead of raking him over publicly, though, they allowed Hamilton to reach his own conclusion of when and how to disclose his affair.
Although there is little that is admirable about this entire sordid series of events, it is important to point out Jefferson, Madison, and Burr did not rely on rumors to draw their conclusions. They could have easily believed the gossip and stormed like a hurricane to ruin Hamilton’s career. But they chose to go straight to the source, have an uncomfortable conversation, and seek the truth.
Viewing this from a workplace perspective, this exchange provides a clear example of why office gossip can be a negative behavior. If co-workers believe rumors about each other, rather than seeking the truth straight from the source, it can contribute to a demoralized culture. This perspective in no way dismisses Hamilton’s infidelity, yet is an important reminder that building trust between colleagues helps foster teamwork. Maintaining healthy relationships between co-workers, especially while working remote during the coronavirus outbreak, is critical to staving off employee burnout and keeping your culture intact.
3. Work Smarter, Not Harder
“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?
Write day and night like you’re running out of time?
Ev’ry day you fight, like you’re running out of time.”
Hamilton was also known for his writing stamina. He was just as loud on paper as he was in person. In the song, “Non-Stop”, we learn Hamilton joined forces with Madison and John Jay to write The Federalist Papers. The group drafted 85 essays in total, with Hamilton writing 51 of them.
These essays came in a time of disarray, confusion, and worry about the future. The United States had won its freedom from England and had a new, yet messy, Constitution. The people of the young country couldn’t unite and agree on anything.
So, Hamilton worked himself to the bone. Writing. Inventing. Persuading. Challenging. Innovating. He simply would not take a break, and his wife and son suffered greatly.
We’re seeing that same behavior affect managers at many organizations. They are the liaisons between leadership and employees; often spending their COVID-19 days processing and diluting difficult Upper Management information, disseminating directives to employees, and listening to team members grow increasingly frustrated with working from home. Companies can help managers by relieving them of this expectation to always say the right thing to their team, and by reevaluating time-based versus productivity-based performance objectives.
4. Self-Care Counts
“And it’s quiet uptown, I never liked the quiet before.”
- It’s Quiet Uptown
Speaking of seeking relief, that’s exactly what Hamilton did after his son’s death. The combination of Hamilton’s infidelity, relentless working pace, and his son’s needless death defending his father’s honor, could’ve easily been enough to overwhelm him.
But Hamilton resets and regathers his thoughts on what's next. This moment of quiet is the first time audiences see Hamilton reflect on his life and focus on improving his relationships.
It’s a poignant reminder that in times of trouble, we need to care for ourselves. There is really nothing “normal” about balancing work, parenting, school, household management, and personal enrichment all under one roof, day after day. The pattern is relentless, demanding, and exhausting – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Trying to carve out time for exercise, hobbies, friendships, and meditation among other things, is a positive step to remain healthy, happy, and balanced in work and life during this pandemic.
5. Battle Respectfully
“Burr, my first friend, my enemy
Maybe the last face I’ll ever see
If I throw away my shot
Is this how you’ll remember me?”
- The World Was Wide Enough
Hamilton lost his son in a foolhardy duel, and then succumbed to the exact same fate when Burr shot him.
The reason? Pride.
Conflict is inevitable. But it doesn’t mean the world isn’t wide enough for opposing viewpoints. Hamilton and Burr both blamed each other for poisoned political pursuits, but neither had the emotional maturity to push aside their egos and find a productive solution.
The result? The United States lost one of its Founding Fathers early in the country’s infancy, and Burr barely recovered from the fallout.
Managing workplace conflict, and your role when confronted by it, is a challenge. Particularly when people are already on edge from external factors like pandemic, racial tension, and political division. But Hamilton and Burr’s desires to blow us all away with their intellect and superiority, reminds us we should find ways to battle respectfully.
Crisis can breed innovation, but unhealthy conflict can stifle that creativity. Businesses will be judged on how they came out of the COVID-19 crisis. If you want to continue to tell your company’s story, find productive ways to argue that propel you forward.
EBI Advocates For You
We hope you’ve enjoyed our take on Hamilton’s impact on business and workplace culture. As talent acquisition and background screening specialists, our goal is to ensure employers are satisfied with finding the right people for the right jobs. As the jobs outlook continues to fluctuate, you can count on EBI to provide you value-added advice and service to propel your business forward. This includes our new solution, EBI Workplace Health & Safety.