Some 70% of the workforce in the United States hates their job, according to recent polls by the Gallop organization. That’s more than two out of three people on this morning’s crowded subway or in that endless sea of cars that jams the freeways into our business centers across the country. These tens of millions of people are actively unhappy, finding little to no value in what they do for a living. They don’t fulfill the universal desire that all humans share: the need to find meaning in their work.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We, as a nation, can do better.
While it’s easy to want to blame these workers for their own unhappiness, the problem doesn’t lie with just them. They likely serve bosses who don’t care whether they’re satisfied or passionate. Those bosses serve higher leadership who are leaders in name only. They assume their job title and scope of authority, by definition, will be sufficient to inspire the following of their organizations.
My team and I built our company, Integra Telecom, from start up to national prominence, growing to become one of the 10 largest fiber based, landline telecom organizations in the US. Attributing our success to our people, I became fascinated by the behavior traits of leaders who successfully create companies that defy the national norms, building cultures of engaged workers. Learning from my journey and partnering with other leaders of nationally recognized, iconic organizations we refined our experience and developed the practical, every day tenants of Fusion Leadership, dedicated to fusing together teams of people who are committed to a shared Mission.
If you are a leader (or plan to become a leader) it is vital to examine what message your daily behaviors communicate in terms of how you prioritize the needs of your organization verses your own, ego-driven needs. Consider these three common questions every leader encounters:
Who do you prioritize within your organization?
As a young CEO I fixated on making sure I had the right leaders in the right places, I obsessed over the attendance and flow at board meetings and managing these priorities quickly filled my calendar, adding phone calls, emails and strain to my weekends. Sound familiar? Managers manage and that fills calendars. Unfortunately, c-level execs and board members are not the ones who serve customers and generate the life-blood of a business, revenues. Prioritizing peer level managers, executives and board members is important; however, it also runs the risk of sending this message to your front line employees: “I don’t have time for you” or “the work you perform is not important to me” or, the worst possible message, “you come to work every Monday morning just to make me wealthier and more powerful.”
Making your front line workers a top priority on your calendar sends the opposite message: “your work is vital to our success” or “this company cannot succeed without your contribution.” Equally important, your front line workers will help you discover where your organization is succeeding and where your organization is failing. These employees, more than any c-level executive, truly have their hands on the business. Investing the time to make my front line workers more successful became my highest priority as I matured in my CEO role. When a workforce truly believes the execs have their backs, amazing things happen, the organization fuses together, committed to the organizations’ Mission. Workers who show up on Monday morning to advance a Mission are significantly more engaged than workers who show up on Monday morning to advance the selfish interests of their boss.
When you conduct a meeting, who becomes the smartest person in the room?
After completing a large private capital raise, described by the Oregonian newspaper as the largest in Oregon’s history, I landed some national names on my board of directors. Determined to earn their confidence and demonstrate my executive prowess, I ran board meetings with a specific agenda and little patience for anyone who took the discussion on an unnecessary detour. That approach almost cost me one of my most valuable executives because I tended to cut him off in board meetings. At the time I felt that his contributions were too long winded and wandered too far from the message I wanted to deliver.
While it is important for a leader to conduct a meeting with professionalism and purpose, I came to learn that my style was partly influenced by another need. That need was for me to demonstrate my intellect and my command for the business. My interruptions communicated to this key member of our team that “I do not value your contribution” or that “I do not have confidence in your capability.” In fact, those messages were the opposite of how I viewed the contributions of this individual. Fortunately, thanks to my COO’s willingness to confront me on my style, I came to see the truth underlying this dynamic. After modifying my approach, this executive became a backbone to the organization, serving for many years until his successful retirement after a stellar career.
Who’s job is it to step up for the customer?
Those times when a customer reaches their most agitated state, when they are proactively engaging your competition, when your organization resembles total melt-down- those are the most visible moments in an organization. Those are the times to step-up and lead.
Unfortunately, most leaders fall back on their job description: you’re an executive- delegate. What a shame, they miss out on the opportunity to seize the most important spotlight, they miss out on the opportunity to define, by their example, what the Mission truly means. They miss out on the opportunity to communicate their highest priority to their employees.
Answering these three questions will require that you engage with what I describe as the selfish verses collective ego dilemma. For example, my need to demonstrate my intellect in board meetings served my selfish ego at the expense of the effectiveness of my team, or the collective ego. How leaders behave when navigating these (and other) daily decisions communicates volumes to their employees and organizations. Over time these behaviors lay the foundation for a company’s culture and ultimately determine whether employees become engaged or fall victim to the national norm of some 70% of American workers- who dread Monday morning.
About the Author: Dudley Slater is the author of Fusion Leadership: Unleashing the Movement of Monday Morning Enthusiasts [Available September 12, 2017, Greenleaf Book Group Press]. Slater was the co-founder and CEO of Integra Telecom where he grew the company from nine to over two thousand employees, transitioning it from a start-up to national prominence as one of the ten largest fiber-based telecommunications companies in the United States.