The Litmus Test of Leadership

One of the key themes I continuously discuss with business leaders is the need to align leadership, strategy, and organizational culture in order to create sustainable, breakthrough results.  Aligning authentic, transformational leadership, mindful strategy, and creative organizational culture is the recipe for success in today’s dynamic business environment.

Engaging the mind, heart, and spirit of your employees has never been more important.  It is their passion, creativity, and intellectual horsepower that drives the creation and commercialization of intellectual property in today’s economy.  They are the source of competitive advantage, yet from the recent research, it appears this message is failing to find its way to the corner office.

Global consulting firm RogenSi just released the results from their Global Mindset Index survey, and their findings warrant discussion.  Here are some of there findings:

● Fourteen percent of employees say their leaders are inspirational.

● Twelve percent of employees are optimistic about their future opportunities.

● Nine percent of employees state their leaders are creating a motivational work environment.

● Ninety-two percent of employees feel their emotions are being controlled by their achievement at work.  Fear is a significant motivating factor.

● Ninety-one percent of employees are experiencing unstable motivation.  This is due to poor leadership communications, clarity of a shared vision, and a lack of feeling authentic engagement.

● Twenty-three percent of employees are showing five or more symptoms of depression.

These findings align seamlessly with the results published by McKinsey (only 1% of “C” level & “one step down” executives score “excellent” in eight key leadership competencies – 90% score below average), Gallup (nearly 3 out of 4 employees are emotionally and cognitively disengaged with their employer), and Maritz Research (approximately 10% of employees trusts their leadership and believes their honest and ethical – 12% of employees feel their company actually listens to them and cares about them – 14% of employees feel their company shares their own, personal values).

It also supports the disconnect that is apparent when we compare what CEOs say that they want and how they actually behave (the IBM Global CEO Survey found that the single most important leadership attribute CEOs are looking for in future leaders is creativity and the ability to cultivate creativity throughout the organization – yet a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports that the careers of people that consistently express creative thinking are sidetracked on their way up the ladder).

This slash and burn harvest mentality; of leading by creating fear, may have worked during the Great Recession, but as we slowly pull out of the global, economic malaise it will eventually reach a tipping point.  We may already be seeing signs of this event.  The Department of Labor recently revised the productivity growth figures downward for the year, from 2.7% to 2%, and they’re forecasting growth of only 1.5% to 2% in the foreseeable future.  Perhaps we’re seeing a point of diminishing returns from business as usual?

The problem with creating a culture of fear is that it triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response from our Core Mammalian Emotional System.  These emotions (seeking, fear, panic, rage, caring, playfulness, and lust) are part of our primary survival mechanisms that helped us evolve over time.  We share these hard-wired, ancient emotional systems with all mammals.

For the past several years, we’ve seen the freeze response reveal itself through poor workforce engagement levels. People have hunkered down and gone into survival mode.  As the economy improves, however, and competing job opportunities arise, it will be the best and brightest associates that have the mobility to move on to fresher pastures.  For many organizations, they’re about to reap that which they have sown.

Herein lies the opportunity. Organizations that lead with authenticity, and approach the management of their organizational culture like the strategic asset it is, will flourish.

Rather than cultivating a culture of fear, creating a culture that promotes seeking (i.e. professional development plans, employee education, etc.), caring (the expression of authentic empathy by leadership), and to a certain degree, playfulness (most juvenile mammals learn survival behaviors through play; depressed mammals don’t engage in play – highly effective leaders laugh three times more often than mediocre managers) will engage the hidden workforce that lies just below the surface in many organizations. Doing so will also create a talent magnet for high potentials seeking opportunities to join the firm.

This isn’t just about wanting happy associates…this is mission critical to the organization’s competitive positioning, adaptability, and ability to execute in rapidly shifting markets.  If we are to believe the research (and I do), there is such a dearth of quality leadership across business today that a company that elevates leadership development to a strategic imperative will inevitably outperform their competition.  The early adopters of this perspective will be the winners of the new century.'


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