Here’s the deal. Leadership is a calling to push the limits and rally people to join in an important work. And, too many of us have forgotten that. Too many lack or have lost the will to push the limits. Our tendency for “tick-the-box” and quick and easy is killing our ability to answer our important questions with creative and bold solutions. We race along at an unsustainable pace, vomiting old ideas onto new challenges and crossing our fingers that it will all work out. Guess what? It’s not working out. No wonder 70% of the US workforce is disengaged (Gallup).
That 70% figure represents a colossal failure of leadership. It’s very convenient and quick and easy to “tick the box” and blame employees for their own engagement. That’s a boss’ perspective, not a leader’s. If you want to be a leader and not a “boss,” here’s the deal: Stop relying on your title or your position to get people to comply. Until you can do that, people will engage just enough to keep their jobs. Beyond that, good luck.
Want to push the limits? Want to rally people to join you in pushing the limits? Want people to stay engaged over time? Try these three things. (NOTE: These three things are not for the timid or faint of heart. They will require effort and a sacrifice.)
- Wake Up! You can’t push the limits if you’re not self-aware of where those limits are. Being awake means being conscious, having a level of self-awareness that let’s us be fully present to ourselves in each moment. Larry Senn, Founder of Senn Delaney calls leaders to “Be. Here. Now.” That’s good advice; and, the father of Servant-Leadership, Robert Greenleaf warns us, “Awareness is not a giver of solace – it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers of solace. They have their own inner security.” If you’re serious about waking up, cultivate a daily practice of being mindful or conscious of who and where you are. Where do you need to push the limits in order to be more fully you?
- Experience the Connection! You didn’t get where you are on your own; and, if you are a leader of others, then your current and future success is dependent upon the strength of your connections with others. Business happens as a result of relationships between people. There is no business-to business-or business-to-consumer. There is human to human. Once we’re awake we experience more clearly that we are connected to others. Experiencing connectedness, we make becoming and staying more connected a priority. How important is it to you to experience the connection? If you’re serious about being a leader and not just a boss, you’ll work tirelessly to honor and strengthen your connections with others and with the world around you. What does that look like?
- Give a Damn! People are disengaged because they look at their organization and interpret the actions of leadership to mean that they are disposable; they believe they are valued extrinsically (for what they produce and how efficiently) and not intrinsically (for who they are). Alfred Adler said, “There is a law that man should love his neighbor as himself. In a few hundred years it should be as natural to mankind as breathing or the upright gait; but if he does not learn it he must perish.” If we are conscious and experience the connection then we cannot help but be concerned. If you’re serious about pushing the limits, then how can you push out the boundaries of your circle of concern? How can you ensure that your stakeholders and your team members feel your genuine concern for their needs?
Make waking up, seeing the connection, and giving a damn the foundation of your way of leading and people will respond. They will engage. They will rally to you and work with you to push the limits.
WARNING: Becoming more conscious, connected, and concerned is not the path of quick and easy or “tick the box.” You will have to sacrifice something or some part of you that you hold dear. I’m talking about your need for certainty, convenience or comfort. The path of authentic leadership is the road less traveled. 70% of the workforce is hoping you’re willing and able to push the limits and take that road.