As business leaders, we strive for daily successes. We might not be aware of this undercurrent that pushes and pulls us in all directions, for we are heavily distracted by the outcroppings, rocks, and falls that culminate in the daily venture of simply staying afloat. It’s when we’re pushed to the point of drowning (or more accurately, fearing that we are drowning) that we tend to respond with frantic flapping and yelps of desperation. This is the point when all the relationships around us experience the ripple effects: our employees, coworkers, friends, spouses, children, and business associates.
Instinctively, our response to others who dive to our aid with quick solutions is to slap them away saying, “No! You don’t get it! I’m drowning here,” as if they hadn’t already deduced as much. We are too quick to dismiss effective means of rescue. Why? Do we want to go under? Are we delusional in thinking that this wave will simply go away if we hold our breath long enough? Of course not, but we do become encumbered by old-hat maneuvers and stilted ideas.
Business leaders don’t become such by accident. Innate qualities like creative concept formation, foresight, and intuition emerge along one’s career and/or educational path, typically catapulting people to the point of shift…do I continue to work for someone else, or do I take the plunge and put all of my ideas and desires into motion? Business leaders enter a world of freedom (aha!) that is juxtaposed with toil (ugh!), a treacherous and laborious tight rope with huge payoffs on the other side. It is a unique world, and one that is in the minority in the workforce. Like many other stations in life we begin to view ours as common place and others, through that lens.
We start to judge others by the insanely high standards to which we hold ourselves. We look first to our employees, evaluating them on qualities that we believe they should have, rather than discovering the attributes and strengths that are uniquely theirs. Our employees, much like all other relationships in our lives, are meant to enhance, not match, our standards.
Businesses will never grow or even become sustainable if we surround ourselves with people who think just like us. What our businesses really need are people who think differently from us, who can come to us with the simplest of ideas that puts a boost in our step and makes us want to be a better leader. What we need, as a business leader, is to sit back and watch with admiration the way the custodian sweeps the floor or gently lifts the nick-knacks from our desk to swipe away the dust of the day, whistling with a smile on his face all the while. What our workplace needs is to celebrate the uniqueness that each position brings and the fact that no business could open its doors without every single one of those positions being filled.
Will there be workers who pass through our business and strive to move on? Yes. Those are our opportunities to mentor and pass on our ideas, leaving a powerful legacy that will boost their livelihood. Will there also be employees who strive to be the best in their position and are content to stay there? Yes. Celebrate them! We need them. Promote them with praise and gratitude.
Will there be still others who seem to have no drive, no desire to do “good” work. Probably. Perfect! Here is our chance to exemplify leadership. We must coach them into developing their own expectations of themselves, not ours. We must teach and encourage them. Almost every person wants to be happy at work. Our job as a business leader is not to make them like US to be happy, but to help them latch on to the piece of them that makes them happy. The rest, including their performance and our profits, will fall into place.
When we feel like we’re drowning, we must grab a lifeline by reaching for our most valuable assets…our employees. Maybe he’s the one we can teach. Perhaps she’s the one we can learn from and admire. We must celebrate the uniqueness AND necessity of each contributor to our business. We must listen to your team. They will teach us, sustain us, and challenge is to be ever-stronger and powerful leaders.