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Alicia Blain

Archive for November, 2011

I think we do and we need to do it fast. In my last blog post I talked about how so many people have been approaching me lately about how unhappy they are in their corporate jobs.  I think the economic woes we’re facing are making people cautious about leaving a steady paycheck but at the same time, it’s highlighting just how pervasive poor leadership is within the corporate ranks.  When times were better, people had more career options and would leave a company when they got tired of its poor leadership. Today, they can’t and it’s putting a spotlight on just how de-moralizing poor leadership can be to a team.

Although leaders know they have the upper hand in this economy, they have to always remember that it won’t be like that forever. If they are lousy bosses, their employees know it and so does everyone else.

It’s not hard to re-imagine leadership so that you have happy employees. Any good leader will tell you that employees don’t want much – they want work that is fulfilling and they want to be respected and acknowledged for their contributions.  That’s it.  The problem is that many of us who have led for a number of years are sticking to some pretty outdated ways of leading that prevent our employees from getting those 2 simple things they want most.

So here are 3 things today’s hip and savvy leaders are doing to re-imagine how they lead in the 21st Century.

  1. They ask for advice.  Savvy leaders know that the days when they had all the answers are long gone.  Today, the employees in the trenches know more about what’s going on than they do.  After all, how current can you be when you’re stuck in meetings all day and most of your job requires you to ensure your team’s compliance with those countless regulations and policies required under HIPAA, SOX, MOUSE (just kidding).  Getting your team involved and listening to their ideas is instrumental for successful leaders in the future.
  2. They are willing to bend the rules. Let’s face it, the only way we are going to shed our old leadership comfort zones are to experiment with new ones. The only way to do that is if we bend the rules of how the game is played.  Now I’m certainly not advocating we go and break corporate rules and get ourselves into trouble.  I’m talking about breaking the rules we’ve used from the past to lead in the future. So for example, just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Just because our best practices don’t align with the new idea being considered doesn’t mean we shouldn’t test the “best” practice to see if                 something better should replace it.  Bend the rules and test the “what-ifs”.  Those  “what-ifs” are the secret to staying viable in the future.
  3. They learn. If you aren’t open to learning new things every day you will not make it as a leader in the 21st Century.  The pace of change is grueling and it’s constantly challenging what we know on any given day.  If you want to sit on your laurels and reap the benefits of the expertise you’ve developed in the past, you will become the poster child for poor leadership.  You need to be in constant learning mode to hold the privilege of leading a team going forward.  By your example, your team will know that they need to stay sharp and keep their skills up to date. And here’s a secret:  you know those pesky 20-somethings that drive you crazy?  They are a GREAT resource for you to keep you learning and to stay relevant with what is happening in the world today.

So how about it? Do you want to just take up space until you reach retirement or do you want to make a difference to the generations of up and coming leaders that are watching you for clues on how to be the best of the best? It’s your choice.  If we are to re-imagine what leadership is going to be in the 21st Century, it starts with us – the leaders that have the courage to be different, be bold and willing to shed the past to make room for the future.

Since I left corporate to start my business a few years ago, I’ve had a steady stream of inquiries from friends and colleagues about getting out of corporate. For some reason, over the last few months, those inquiries have increased significantly.  Now these are bright, talented individuals making very decent incomes who are absolutely miserable and disgusted with corporate life.  I point that out because many times people think it’s just the 20-somethings that are complaining about corporate life. No, folks.  It’s not just the Gen Yers – it’s Xers and lots of Boomers doing the complaining.

In every case , without exception, when I dig a little bit to find out what is at the root of the unhappiness, it turns out to be poor leadership.  There are many reasons given.  Here’s the top 10 list of complaints:

  1. My boss has no clue what’s going on in the team.
  2. My boss is a very good [fill in the expertise – salesperson, accountant, lawyer] but he’s a lousy manager.
  3. My boss doesn’t stick up for us and caves in to the demands of other departments or higher ups.
  4. The staff isn’t getting a raise but the higher ups are getting outrageous bonuses this year.
  5. My boss is so afraid of losing her job that she refuses to listen to new ideas we’ve presented that can help the team.
  6. My boss listens to people who are out of touch with the realities of what the team faces.
  7. My boss is not well respected by the higher ups or his colleagues and is ineffective.
  8. My boss is just holding on long enough to get retirement.
  9. My boss has a sink or swim mentality.
  10. My boss has no time for his employees.

Any of these ring a bell?  Which ones resonate the most with you?  What complaint isn’t on there that you feel strongly about? For me, the ones that would put me over the edge were #1, 3, 5 and 7.

After listening to so many people repeat these reasons over and over again, I wondered how so many leaders could be so clueless about how their employees felt? I realize that employees aren’t going to volunteer that information to their boss even if he or she asks. I also know that employees aren’t always forthcoming in giving that information on employee engagement surveys no matter how much the company tries to convince them their answers are “confidential”.

So I decided to post the top 10 complaints here in the hopes that leaders would read them and ask themselves 3 probing questions.

  1. Who is someone inside or outside the company that I trust that can give me an honest assessment of how I am perceived as a leader?  We all know people in our careers that are honest, trustworthy and discreet that can help us answer whether our perception of how we lead matches how others see us lead.  The answer might surprise you.
  2. Do any of these complaints describe my peers or bosses? Can any of them remotely describe me? Many times if you can spot these behaviors in others around you, it makes you stop and reflect on your own and causes you to take some time to be introspective.
  3. What is one thing I can do today to ensure that my perception of how I lead is aligned to how others see me as a leader?

Of course, to answer these questions truthfully require you, as a leader, to be objective about yourself.  But more importantly, it requires you to still CARE about being an effective leader. From the sounds of the heightened grumblings I’m hearing lately, that may be the missing ingredient.

So my question for you is: are you one of the leaders described in this Top 10 list?  What are you doing to make sure you’re not?