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Solving the Leadership Crisis in the Office

by Aug 20, 20081 comment

The cover of the August 26th. issue of Business Week features Rainn Wilson, “who plays everybody’s favorite workplace irritant on TV’s The Office”. It trumpets the headline, “Trouble at the Office? Toxic Bosses. Work/Life Balance. Generational Tension” and goes on to portray the story as a “milestone at Business Week” because, presumably, the article is synthesized from research among readers. So I eagerly read the issue from cover to cover – after all, these are the issues I try to help organizations grapple with every day. But I found the article a big disappointment, because it added little to what is already well known and few solutions about how to fix the rapidly deteriorating climate of Corporate America.

So, for those who were similarly disappointed, I offer a brief refresher:

Fact 1: Our systems of leadership, corporate governance and organizational theory are seriously broken and out of date.

Fact 2: Tinkering with the existing system will not lead to the wholesale change we all (or most of us, anyway) are yearning for.

Solution: We need to turn our attention to becoming as effective at inspiring people as we have become at managing metrics. We can do this by learning to be leaders who value compassion, caring, encouragement, mentoring, growing, learning, and respecting and honoring others and their gifts. The kind of leaders that others LOVE to work for. In short, nurturing the spirits of people.

Notice the word “love”. Often, when I mention this word to corporate leaders, they roll their eyes or tell me I need to change my language and that “our people are not ready for that yet”. But people are ready – we want to love our work, we want to love what we do and the people with whom we do it. And, contrary to popular belief, we want to be loved by everyone – not just those at home. Anyone who doesn’t believe that isn’t a member of the human race.

I am privileged to work in the senior reaches of large organizations. But I find the sheer pace and scheduling frenzy appalling. Senior leaders have little thinking time and almost no time for social exchange – no time to be interested in and learn about the lives of those who have chosen to join their community. Some of my clients schedule their spreadsheet and PowerPoint-packed meetings every 30 minutes – some even 15 minutes! In some cases, I realize that the pace is so torrid, that I am talking with someone who has either not prepared for our discussion or – even worse – has no idea who I am or why we are talking together!

In these conditions, it is difficult to create a corporate culture where dreams are shared, where passion is the juice that fuels excellence, where customers rave about their experiences, where employees are so enthusiastic about where they work that they become the organization’s major recruiting machine.

Today, pause for a moment. Take the time to inspire someone who works closely with you and – wait for it – tell them you love them. Yes, it will take courage, but the results will amaze you. Then think about how you could change your entire organization into a place that others loved so much they wanted to work there and do business with you. Now that would be inspiring!