I was at Starbucks talking with an executive about the large-scale, rapid changes around us-from government budgets, new technologies, and the quirks of the stock market to climate change, younger generations in the workforce, and the increasing demand for corporate responsibility. We also shared how we personally feel uncertain in the midst of all this change, and how challenging the future looks. We left the coffee shop still pondering one question:
“How is this affecting the way we lead?”
LET’S CHALLENGE DISENGAGEMENT
During prolonged periods of this type of uncertainty, people often get discouraged. They can resign themselves to not being able to control what’s happening and to not being able to make a difference. This has enormous costs-costs worth noting. According to Gallup’s recent calculations, disengaged employees cost theÂAmerican economy $35 billion per year in lost productivity.*
We can’t afford to be operating in this way. Corporate America is ripe with possibilities. We have a wealth of really smart people and the resources to do amazing things together. As leaders, we need to be inspiring the people we lead with confidence, courage, and hope. Anything less than this and we’re effectively contributing to the wave of disengagement that is sweeping corporate America.
As I’ve been coaching senior executive leaders recently, I’ve been encouraged to hear many CEOs and their direct reports committing and re-committing themselves to making corporate America a better place-a place where people are inspired to step up to our current and future challenges. This is a commitment I share. Making the organization a better place was my purpose when I worked inside corporations. It’s why I now focus on coaching leaders who are real players. And why I invite them to ask themselves in every situation and in every conversation the same question I ask myself:
“What is the best use of my presence?”
I don’t have a crystal ball. But I do spend most of my time talking with leaders about the future. And from what I have learned, the best use of a senior executive’s presence right now is to focus on growing their leaders and leadership teams. Leadership heavily influences the way people experience their work. When you select and develop senior executives who can create the “magic” that inspires and engages others, you take a critical step towards creating an organization that delivers extraordinary products, ground-breaking innovations, and remarkable customer experiences.
Ken is an example of a leader who creates magic with his leadership team. In his words, he enjoys “growing fine leaders.” As a seasoned CEO in the financial services industry, he’s been purposefully making his piece of corporate America a better place-day by day, conversation by conversation-for over a decade. No matter which company he’s heading, he creates a “ripple effect” that has direct reports, managers, and employees declare how much they enjoy working with him. People follow Ken as he moves from company to company.
So when Ken called me recently to facilitate a strategic planning session at his latest company with his newly-configured executive team, I jumped at the opportunity.
We designed the session to start with a discussion that the team hadn’t had before among themselves. Since these were the people who were setting a direction for the company’s future, we first asked that everyone share what they personally deeply cared about. As each executive leader shared what inspired them to do what they do, everyone in the room connected with each other in a heartfelt way. (Yes, contrary to popular belief, it is ok to have some emotion at the senior ranks!) That engagement deepened the relationships among the team members almost immediately. It opened the door for infusing passion and purpose into the vision and strategy they created in the discussions that followed.
As I watched this leader and his team in action, I was reminded that you create magic when people feel something. Giving leadership teams the tools and practices that allow them to re-create that magic-to have everyone in an organization ignited to work together in one way that we as leaders can make corporate America a better place.
Another way to make our companies better is to take an active part in the development of our high performers. In one of the manufacturing companies, I work with, the Senior Vice President of Marketing, and I have been coaching one of their high-performing Vice Presidents. His most recent suggestions on where we could go with her coaching revealed to me his complete confidence in her abilities and genuine recognition of her value. He shared the vision he has of her as an entrepreneur inside the company, someone who runs her function as if it were her own business.
This invitation to her to step up comes with an exciting opportunity. He would like to see the marketing role reinvented throughout the company-to move it from being a service function to being more like a business function. This will call for her to not only relate to the Senior VP and his colleagues more like peers but also for her to expand her thinking to the global level and to show people how marketing can help to drive the business worldwide.
Even though her self-perception has not yet caught up with how she’s perceived by others, she was completely jazzed by this opportunity. In the months ahead, we’ll be working together on practices to help her become more powerful, balanced, and relaxed while stepping up to this larger role. And this high-performer is not the only one being called to step up in a more powerful way. She’ll need those that report to her to do the same.
In crisis lies opportunity. And I believe these times provide unique opportunities for us all to step up each in our own unique way.
For me: Every conversation I have with a senior executive who is committed to making their organization a better place to work is an opportunity for me to contribute to making corporate America a better place.
As part of my commitment to executives, I challenge them. My intention is to help strengthen their leadership in a way that they can positively influence the way people experience their work-today and tomorrow.
If even one person in an executive’s company goes home and says something positive to their son or daughter over the dinner table about how cool their boss is and how much they’re learning and growing, we’ve done our jobs. If the coaching conversation I’ve had with an executive has indirectly impacted the life of that young person (and possibly whatever future they create in America), I’m deeply satisfied.
As leaders, we can expand the positive impact we have no matter who we are, no matter what challenges we face, no matter what size company we’re leading. We can do great work by investing in people. With every conversation we have, with every interaction, we can make corporate America a better place.
Will you add your voice to this conversation?