I have never understood the fridge magnet adage, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In my particular life, I’m happy to get the lemon in the first place. It reminds me of the story of Alfredo Moser.
In the sleepy town of Uberaba, situated in southern Brazil some 500 kilometres and five hours from Rio de Janeiro, Alfredo Moser has a home. In 2002, Alfredo — a lifelong and what we may call eudaimonic yet curious mechanic — was suffering yet another one of the debilitating power blackouts that bedevils many of Brazil’s shantytowns, also known as favelas. As is his non-consumerist and natural tendency, he took matters into his own hands and cooked up a way to provide light in the midst of darkness. He looked not for fame, fortune or notoriety, he simply wanted to solve a problem and share with the world. He used his heart and his mind to deliver back to his community.
You’re reading this post because you have reasonable access to money, electricity and arguably the internet — perhaps the only way in which to market and read these days. What happens when those accoutrements are taken away? We cannot justifiably compare this dilemma in the Western world to the plight of our friend Alfredo. Why? Alfredo is the quintessential example of living a life with purpose. Under the doldrum of yet another night of electrical darkness in his native Brazil, Alfredo put mind to instrument and gave the world the Moser Light.
You may find his invention crude or even simple — tell that to the one million people who now use the Moser Light — but for those who live their lives with a lack of money, electricity and the internet, it is the second coming of Benjamin Franklin. Moser devised a way in which to provide light for free. By simply taking an empty two litre plastic bottle, filling it with roughly 50 millimetres of bleach, affixing the cap and placing it outside in the sunlight for a few hours a 40 to 60 watt light will emerge.
It may have taken over a decade for word to creep out about the Moser Light, but it’s a near perfect example of an individual who sought to give back — while on the job and in their place of employment — fixated solely on generosity and a willingness to help others, not profit or notoriety. We might take liberty with the thesis that Moser had found ‘signifiance’ through an action involving his heart and his mind. Not to be outdone and via his Thomas Edison-esque invention, Alfredo clearly delivered purpose in a way that gave the world what he calls a ‘divine light’.
“God gave the sun to everyone, and light is for everyone. Whoever wants it saves money. You can’t get an electric shock from it, and it doesn’t cost a penny.”
Alfredo’s lemon might have been living in a shantytown, riddled by blackouts and a low paying job, but there would be no crying over lemons for him. He felt compelled to turn a sour situation into something sweet. He took it upon himself to distribute the lemons — his creative mind and open heart — for all in his community to enjoy. He brought together and used both his head and his heart such that he further fuelled his purpose. In doing so, he helped thousands of his global citizens. Here was a man, living in the desperately poor favelas of Brazil, living off of meagre scraps of life as a mechanic seeking not fame or fortune, but to help his fellow neighbours in times of literal blackness and difficulty.
Alfredo Moser used his head and heart to help others. Even in as low a paying and as tough a role as a mechanic, Alfredo is someone who demonstrated open and helpful attributes. His purpose was to assist others in the community regardless of the societal situation that surrounded him. Alfredo felt the community was in need of his talent. He delivered, with both his head and his heart, and asked for nothing in return.
This story of Alfredo Moser brings me to the question I’d like to pose:
How can leaders become more like Alfredo Moser — using their hearts and minds — to create engaged workforces that think about the well-being of the communities in which they live?
According to Hay Group, a global management consulting firm, 63 percent of CEOs and other members of the top team reckon it’s the top leaders in the company who are “chiefly responsible for staff engagement and leadership,” but only 38 percent of those outside the C-Suite agree that the top tier is responsible. Now that is a disturbing leadership and engagement paradox. Sadly and equally paradoxical, a study suggest 69 percent of executives agree they too feel engagement and leadership is a problem in their organization.
How about job satisfaction correlated to employee engagement? Or is job satisfaction more correlated to life satisfaction as per the research conducted by Rain, Lane and Steiner? And if it is — if job satisfaction is akin to life satisfaction — are leaders paying enough attention to their employees such that they are in fact caring about their lives, connecting in ways that allow them to enact life-work balance and possessing a sense of belonging with their colleagues? What about an employee’s connection with the community in which they serve? Moser provides us with a glorious example of someone not looking to profit from an idea, but to help those in need, particularly in the community he was a part of.
Between 1985 and 2005, the number of Americans who stated they felt satisfied with the way life was treating them decreased by roughly 30 per cent. Even more shocking was the number of dissatisfied people; this increased by nearly 50 per cent. The reasons appear to be related to Americans’ declining attachments to friends and family, lower participation in social and civic activities, and diminished trust in political institutions. What if leaders were to take the story of Alfredo Moser, and create an environment at work that instills a sense of purpose, one that allows employees to feel as though they can put both their heart and mind into their work?
Has the organization become so blind that — within the underbelly of the top leadership ranks — a professional mutiny is in the works? Perhaps it’s already in motion. A mutiny that manifests in human capital contradiction where employees are either punching in their time to simply get through the day or they are in eternal job searches hunting for the Holy Grail organization that actually cares about their well-being and that of the community in which they are a part of.
Alfredo Moser is a hero.
We need more leaders to think like Alfredo.