It seems almost logical to think that in a hyper-competitive corporate world cutthroat environments will foster increased productivity. After all, iron sharpens iron, right… And only the strong survive!
But sadly, this way of thinking is completely wrong. A recent article in Harvard Business Review explains that three significant side effects of hypercompetitive, cutthroat work environments are risk to health, disengagement and lack of loyalty. The common thread among all three side effects is stress.
According to The American Institute of Stress, stress-related outcomes cost businesses in the US roughly $300 billion annually. What’s even more eye-opening is the fact that 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress, according to a 2019 Everest college research study. The magnitude of the problem in the US is huge, and cutthroat work environments are greatly to blame.
What is a company leader to do?
Businesses are built for profit, and those that aren’t profitable suffer the consequences. In addition, spreadsheets don’t have feelings. They don’t care if you had a bad day, only that your cost per customer remains lower than revenue derived from those customers. So how can a bottom-line minded manageraccount for all the touchy-feely stuff?
The answer is, it all starts from within. Sure there are guides and boxes company executives can check. For example, a prescription might read that highly positive work environment are built by:
- Caring for, being interested in and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends.
- Providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling.
- Avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes.
- Inspiring one another at work.
- Emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work.
- Treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust and integrity.
However, as good as this all looks on paper, it’s not going to get to the heart of the problem if the leaders involved don’t have a significant psychological shift as well. The reason this is so important is because:
1. Corporate culture is a direct reflection of the CEO and leadership team. Tone is set at the top.
2. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Empathy, kindness and compassion start inside a person. If it’s not there, gestures of kindness or empathy will be sniffed out as false.
3. It takes commitment, so you have to be bought in 100% – mentally and physically. This means prioritizing time to actually engage with people, care, socialize, and build relationships.
It is true, some leaders come to the table with an intuitive nature regarding interpersonal relationships built in. However, most people get to leadership roles based on competencies and getting results. Not because they have the bullet list outlined above.
Caring, empathy, gratitude and integrity are not actions that you just start doing one day. They are learned behaviors.
Jack Welch, former CEO and Chairman of General Electric, famously said, “before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
And Jack was right; becoming a great leader takes self-reflection, self-awareness and some personal house cleaning.
So where does the journey towards self-awareness begin?
The journey starts with a conscious decision to dedicate time towards being self-aware — literally, carving out real time. Take a look at your calendar and, each week, mark off time you can devote completely and utterly free of incoming distractions. If you can’t make this simple commitment, you are not ready.
While it sounds simple enough, in Western civilization we’re all about doing — thank Nike for that. However, the truth is, we’re human beings not human doings. “Doing” is robbing us of periods of self-awareness and self-reflection.
If you can’t say to yourself you’ve set aside time to turn off the world, then you’re never going to have self-awareness and self-reflection. This is a critical first step.
So now that you’ve committed to this journey, and have given yourself time each week to reflect, what’s next?
My advice is to start with a simple question, “Who am I?” What is the source of my identity? What is the larger picture in which I exist? How do I fit within the world and the universe? Think about yourself and everything you are in this world, and how it all connects.
Now that you have been to the ends of existence and back in your mind, and the phones are ringing and texts are pinging, how will you remember what came from this exercise? Write it down somewhere. Hold onto it. Come back to it.
This is the first leg in the lifelong journey of self-reflection you are now on. Take time, be patient and appreciate each step along the way.