Sometimes, when tough decisions need to be made, you need to go back to basics.
I was talking with a woman the other day who was facing a thorny decision in her work. Should she or shouldn’t she? Worrying, ruminating and floundering, she turned to me and said, “What do I do?”
Shoot, I didn’t know. But I did ask one question, “At this point in your life, what’s your biggest priority?”
And she paused.
A longish pause.
Then she started to laugh. “No one has asked me that through this whole thing. I haven’t even asked myself that!”
And just like that, the path forward opened up. She knew what she was going to do – which wasn’t going to be easy, but it certainly was very clear.
I tend to ask clients-in-crisis like this to think about their priorities and their values. What’s important? What do they value the most?
It used to surprise me that nearly every person used the same words to describe at least one of their top values – words like Connection, Belongingness, Together, To Be With, Team.
I’ve learned that for so many of us it’s the connection with others that really gives our lives a sense of meaning.
And yet so many of these same people tell me that the workplace is the last place they can expect to find real, authentic belongingness.
Last week I spoke with a senior guy at a huge multi-national company. Part of our work together has been deciphering the world-class, sharp-elbowed office politics played within the organization.
Now, the higher up the leadership pyramid you go, the more intense the office politics get in most organizations – elbows are much pointier and jabbier.
My senior guy was telling me how the people one level above him act at meetings. “They never participate,” he said. “They just sit there with their fingers templed in front of them and say, ‘Thank you for your input. We will be getting back to you.’ Where’s the collaboration? The connection? The sharing of information? I feel like a sitting duck because I never know if I’ve made a good presentation or not. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing because I don’t have all the information! Are we working for the same company, or not?”
Ah, Grasshopper, what you see here is a blatant power play. What you observe is information hoarding. And – I’ll go even further - it’s bullying.
Last summer I led a webinar for the Harvard Business Review on bullies and jerks in the workplace. It turned out to be one of the most popular webinars HBR has ever offered – which is great and at the same time, very sad.
In that webinar, I defined a bully as someone who tries to keep you from being able to do your job and/or tries to crush your sense of self.
My guy’s senior colleagues with their templed fingers think they are playing politics but in reality they are blocking collaboration, making things harder than they have to be and killing the efficiency of the group. They have learned to be bullies.
Perhaps they do this under the mistaken belief that powerful people behave a certain way. It’s a bit of John Wayne with a smidge of Clint Eastwood and just a soupçon of The Donald. You know who I’m talking about – a solo contributor with power, who leaves people trembling in his wake. Who has no time for other people unless they’re passing him ammo or a whiskey bottle.
You know the guy. And this archetype may have worked in a different day and age, with a different generation. But, today, it’s in direct opposition to what most people crave in their work.
They want togetherness. They want feedback on their impact, reflected in their connection with friends and colleagues – probably because formal feedback processes aren’t really working.
The best leaders today know this.
They know that there’s a new yardstick for measuring leadership effectiveness, and it’s not how many people stand up when you walk into a room. And it’s not about how much information you hoard.
It’s about how well the people who work for you perform.
It’s about what they accomplish.
It’s about their efficiency and their impact.
It’s about how they collaborate, belong and connect.
So if you are a leader in an organization and you have a tendency to hoard information, to temple your fingers, to be a lone wolf?
You’ve gotta knock that off.
Start collaborating. Share. Ask questions. Listen. Seek advice.
Provide an environment where your people can connect and belong. Give them a way to find meaning.
And if you do, here’s the promise: You will have more productive people, better teams, greater impact and more success.
Together, connected, with, belonging – those are the words, and the only way we’re all going to move forward.