There is an old adage that goes something like this – “People join organizations but leave managers”. I am not sure of the originator of this statement, but most of us realize just how true it is at work.
People are attracted to your organization by your purpose, your mission, and your vision. They hopefully resonate with your organization’s values.
However, what keeps them there at your organization, happy and productive, are good team leaders, good managers. What really matters is what happens day-to-day in the trenches. A bad manager quickly negates the best of mission and vision statements. A bad manager who undermines or contradicts the stated core values of the organization begets cynicism in those they lead.
It is great to have powerful purposes, meaningful missions, and inspiring visions, but what really matters is how good are your team leaders, your managers?
The day-to-day work life in an organization overshadows any grand organizational mission / vision statements.
One of my new favorite books is Hal Gregerson’sQuestions Are The Answer. In his book he recounts many conversations he has had with some fascinating people who have learned to ask the big questions; the important questions.
One of my favorites is his conversation with Joan LaRovere a pediatric cardiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. In his interview with Dr. LaRovere, she talks about a couple of very powerful questions that guide her:
“Is this good for my soul, or is it bad for my soul? Is this getting me closer to the human being that I want to become?”
Joan LaRovere in Hal Gregersen’s book “Questions Are The Answer”.
Powerful questions in my opinion and important in making good decisions about both the the small things and the large things in your life.
An article on the Forbes website from January 2012 used the following quote from Jennifer Chatman, management professor at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business,
“Jargon masks real meaning.”
I hope that you will allow me some small liberties with
this phrase. Jargon relates to words or phrases that are used within certain
professions or groups that are often difficult to understand outside of those
contexts. Ms. Chatman’s argument was that “People use it as a substitute for
thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to
Here is where I will begin to take liberties with this
phrase. Millennials. I said it out loud, which seems akin to speaking the name
Voldemort aloud. The term millennial has become such a “buzzword” and catchall
for all-the-bad-things over the last decade. This apt-named generation has been
blamed for everything from the housing shortage to cereal sales dropping to the
decline of the sale of beer; all with plenty of research to back the blame.
Full disclosure, I am a millennial, of the older set that
came of age during the recession of 2008. Admittedly, I do resonate with a lot
of what is said about my generation. I would rather my doctor’s office text me
reminders and email me about bills that I owe. For one, I keep my calendar on
my phone and I can add to it automatically from a text, also mail can get lost
and it is a waste of paper product. To me, I am being efficient and thoughtful –
not lazy. Yet, at the same time I have weekly phone calls scheduled with
friends that live in a different state than my own as my relationships are
important to me.
I believe that jargon can be helpful in helping a group
understand their common purpose but too often it shifts to being a substitute
for thinking hard – just as Ms. Chatman said. The term millennial is useful in
giving a framework to other people about a very large swath of the population
yet it has devolved into an excuse for people to not think and to not deal with
the issues at hand but to shift blame. It is often easier to, for example,
blame millennials for the housing shortage yet not take into account that
existing homeowners are rate-locked which has everything to do with the market
and mortgage rates. And the market has all generations participating, not just
Millennials haven’t made the big sweeping changes that the
world is facing, but we are reaping the rewards and the drawbacks of decisions
made years before we came of age or were even alive. The concept of the
internet was first introduced in the early 1960s by J.C.R. Licklider. Yet, as
millennials we are the first generation to begin to fully participate with the
internet -almost 30 years afterwards.
I, for one, would prefer that people would come up with solutions that involve everyone (we now have 5 generations in the workplace-at once!) instead of using inflammatory jargon that is thrown about so carelessly deflecting blame. As a millennial what I am asking, is that you would be willing to come alongside me and help show me the way…understanding that if and when I take your advice it will most likely look very different in my own life. Mostly, because I am a different person but also because much has changed and will continue to change within our world. Yet, I know that sound advice will always be sound and I respect those that have paved the way before me and as well as alongside me.
The best team leaders are distinguished from others when they are able to meet two categories of needs of their team members.
“. . . you make us feel part of something bigger, that you show us how what we are doing together is important and meaningful; and secondly, that you make us feel that you can see us, and connect to us, and care about us, and challenge us, in a way that recognizes who we are as individuals. We ask that you give us this sense of universality – all of us together – and at the same time recognize our own uniqueness; to magnify what what we all share, and to lift up what is special about each of us.”
Buckingham, Marcus and Goodall, Ashley. (2019). Nine Lies About Work. Harvard Business School Publishing. Boston, MA.
I am finding Nine Lies About Workto be a fascinating read and so far I am finding that I agree with most of what I am reading. The above quote resonated deeply with me. Teamwork is important and people respond not to goals but to doing work that is meaningful – people want to be a part of something important. At the same time, each of us is incredibly unique and good leaders know that and celebrate the incredible variety and deeply appreciate each individual on their team and what their uniqueness adds to the team.
Lead your teams with a common purpose that lifts them up and at the same time appreciate each individual that makes up that team. that is what good leaders do.
“But I want to focus on why questioning is a particularly important tool for introverts. Indeed, asking questions is the quiet person’s secret weapon—if we can learn to appreciate and exploit that gift more than we might already. I’ve studied hundreds of successful artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs known for their curiosity and questioning acumen. Most are humble, thoughtful, and reflective, as well as keen observers and good listeners. These qualities help innovators be more attentive and aware, which in turn enables them to formulate better questions about the world around them—and those questions often drive their creativity.”
Berger, Warren. (2018). The Book of Beautiful Questions: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead. New York, NY. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Questions are indeed powerful, but unfortunately we have been conditioned to not ask questions. Think about when you were a child and full of curiosity and a desire to learn. What has happened since then? Often through the educational system that encourages you to sit down and be quiet while the teacher dispenses knowledge to the insecure bosses who perceive questions as being challenges to authority we have had the desire to question suppressed until it is now habit.
Regain that childlike curiosity and learn to ask questions once again – you will be better and so will the people around you.
Do not forget that a faithful life of quietly serving others is of great importance. Think on the people that have most shaped you – were they famous, were they flamboyant, or were they quietly and faithfully loving and serving others?
I just finished the book How To Write A Sentence by Stanley Fish. The book is a great deal more interesting than its title might imply. I can imagine many cringing at the title as they remember high school English classes. However, in my opinion, it is quite a good book. One of the quotes Mr. Fish has in the book is by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) in her book Middlemarch. The quote is as follows:
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Eliot, George. (1871-1872). Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life
Mr. Fish goes on to say in his commentary on this sentence:
“. . . to rest in ‘unvisited tombs’, a phrase that might in some other sentence have the sound of melancholy and failure, but here rings with quiet triumph. Faithful souls need no external signs of their worth to validate them; visits would be superfluous, . . . [they] need neither tombs nor visitors.”
Fish, Stanley Eugene. (2011). How To Write A Sentence and How to Read One. 1st Ed. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, NY.
Mr. Fish (and George Eliot) makes an important point. Most often, the quiet faithful people who go about living life faithfully serving others and who are not seeking fame or notoriety; people who need no external validation are the ones truly making this world a better place to live. They are the ones making you and I better people.
“Simply put, employers can make decisions to improve people’s lives in fundamentally important ways. Or, alternatively, employers can, either intentionally or through ignorance and neglect, create workplaces that literally sicken and kill people.”
This quote is one of the many that stopped me dead in my tracks. To realize that the quality of our leadership can literally put people in the hospital or improve the quality of their lives is very sobering. The subtitle of the book is arresting as well – How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance – and What We Can Do About It. Sure, we managers are all about organizational performance (which is important by the way!), but too often the way we are leading is not only detrimental to organizational performance, more importantly, it is detrimental to the very health of the people we are leading.
Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University and is the author or co-author of 15 books – so he is well qualified to address this subject. Following is a sampling of some “brutal facts” from his book that illustrate our need to become better leaders.
“The American Institute of Stress maintains that job stress costs US employers more than $3oo billion annually. The ill-health from workplace stress adversely affects productivity and drives up voluntary turnover.”
“In total, workplace environments in the US may be responsible for 120,000 excess deaths per year-which would make workplaces the 5th leading cause of death, and account for about $180 billion in additional health-care expenditures, approximately 8% of the total; health-care spending.”
“According to the Mayo Clinic, the person you report to at work is more important for your health than your family doctor. – Bob Chapman”
“Simply put, employers can make decisions to improve people’s lives in fundamentally important ways. Or, alternatively, employers can, either intentionally or through ignorance and neglect, create workplaces that literally sicken and kill people.
These statistics should be a clarion call to action for us as leaders.