Are you leading, or just taking a walk by yourself?
Dummy dope…spoiled brat, without a properly functioning brain…low-class slob… sleazebag…crazed, crying lowlife. I can easily envision this vitriolic diatribe occurring in the hallways of a middle school campus, but suffice it to say I’ve been surprised to hear this emanating from the White House when someone voices dissent with the administration’s position. Contrary to what you might be thinking right now, I have no intent nor desire to criticize our President (and yes, if you are an American citizen, he is “our” President). As a representative democracy, our system is built on the peaceful transition of power to those elected by the populace. I have the utmost respect for the office of the Presidency and will always give due respect to those that are rightfully elected to lead our nation. On the other hand, I would have a much different stance if the verbiage above emanated from the front office of a company that offered me employment.
In Nelson W. Polsby’s “Congress and the Presidency”, Polsby postulated that Nixon felt “...his election conferred not only an extraordinary measure of legitimacy upon him, but also a kind of illegitimacy upon many of the very people with whom a President ordinarily does business…”. One can extrapolate that premise to those executives within an industry that feel their leadership position confers an elite status that negates any responsibility to respect others within their organization. At this point in my life, I’m blessed to be able to say that I have the financial freedom to walk away from any employment opportunity I might be given. I also fully recognize that there are many that may just be starting off in their careers and may not have that same latitude, and therefore feel compelled to do what is required to make it through the work week, no matter how toxic the work environment may be. In my experience, these individuals will begrudgingly do what is required of them…but will rarely do anything more.
I’ve seen organizations survive with apathetic followership, but I can’t recall ever seeing one thrive. Alternatively, I’ve been associated with organizations in which the leadership demands a culture of mutual respect and trust that enables and encourages “healthy friction” …an environment where people are confident they can respectfully express an alternative opinion to a favored position without fear of ridicule or retribution. People at all levels of the organization know that even though their opinion may not win the day, it will at least be respectfully considered. That in and of itself is enough to convince them they are a valued member of the team and provides the motivation to continue to seek options that enable the organization to succeed. More importantly, leaders that work to establish this level of trust and respect within their organization have the opportunity to benefit from diverse views and approaches that may result in a course of action they may never consider if left to their own devices.
We’ve all heard the leadership construct of “it’s my way or the highway” …and that’s certainly an option. However, the highway disenchanted employees may take often leads to a competitor’s exit ramp, where their opinions and talents will be valued and fully leveraged. In fact, in today’s competitive environment, other companies will be willing to provide the transportation and pay for the trip. Someone told me early in my career that if you think you’re leading people, every now and then, you need to look behind and see who is following you. If no one is there, you’re not leading…you’re just taking a casual stroll down Main Street. People tend to follow leaders that are truly interested in their opinion and value their inputs. That’s not hard to achieve…it simply starts with mutual respect and trust, and the people you’re leading deserve nothing less.
Maj Gen (ret) Jim “Rev” Jones retired in 2014 after leading organizations at all levels in the Air Force. He is now a partner and senior consultant in Two Blue Aces, a firm with a focus on strategy, leadership and business solutions at the executive level. Visit twoblueaces.com to learn more about how Two Blue Aces can help your company meet its goals and objectives.
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