An apparent theme is emerging, more then ever, amidst the need for a leadership philosophy shift across many Companies I have spoken with. People of all levels at these Companies are feeling it. For the first time I have seen, there is a division amongst leaders as they too are impacted. What is missing should replace what is ever-present. TRUST is fleeting and doubt or mistrust of its people is the emerging theme. There is a pervasive feeling across organizations that results matter more than anything else. Many CEO’s or leaders will say that people are the most important “asset” of a Company, yet where and how leaders focus their time appears to be in contradiction to this belief. Ironically, the results are what get impacted over the long run.
Imagine how employees feel or perform when it is apparent to them they are no longer being developed. According to an article by Stephen Kehoe, CEOs-Must-Lead-Change, “hope is placed in employers to get it right, people are generally unhappy….pessimism is pervasive; most people in the developed world do not believe they will be better off in five years.” At one Company, I was told there was even no mention of the employees as part of the strategy and people were recognized mainly for results, regardless of how they got there. Some Companies have recommitted to invest in their people and taken on the responsibility to develop them through critical skill-building for the future. Others care about their people first and are seeing amazing results follow like Garry Ridge, CEO – WD40, who believes “The Tribe Comes First.”
It became glaringly apparent to me there was a need for more people leadership, meaning connecting and caring of the people that serve them. That sounds upside down and shouldn’t we flip this to serve others in place of being served, regardless of level? In this case, servant leadership. A need to expand the focus beyond just getting results and to put significant effort into people with the faith that even better results will follow. While results are part of any equation, understanding and making the progress in developing people, teams and capabilities are the lifelines to a long term, sustainable business model. With our ever-changing environment and digital revolution, jobs will not be the same in the fast-approaching years to come and it is our responsibility to help our people prepare and be ready for the future.
As I reflect on this situation, it reminds me of an eye-opening experience from coaching my daughter’s third-grade basketball team. We were under-matched in size and talent compared to the other teams in the league and were losing quite badly in the first few games. Throughout the season, I encouraged the girls to, first, be great teammates to each other, and to secondly always try their best and finally to have fun. I felt it was important to build a safe environment for the girls to grow and to play bigger as a team than individuals. They did just that and kept smiling, even with the results not showing in the win column.
I was not about to give up on them. We continued to do fun drills in practice that developed the basics in ways they are not giving up on the game or themselves. A leader is constantly being observed and measured by its people, especially during the toughest of times. I shared how much I appreciated the team’s effort and joy. I also asked them if they were up for a challenge to grab ten rebounds and score in the double-digits at the next game. The challenge was not about winning and was simply about making improvement from where we were. They were excited about the fun challenge and the littlest girl on the team asked, “what is our reward coach?” I smiled and asked, “what would be a fun prize?” They grabbed one of the practice jerseys and asked me if I would wear it once we achieved these goals. Wear it on my head as the game was going on to represent long hair to symbolize the female leader they were longing for at the beginning of the season. I warmly accepted the challenge and, I was wearing a wig by the third quarter of the next game! So embarrassing and rewarding! The girls were now determined to have me wear it as often as possible with upcoming challenges that the team was achieving together. Greater trust in each other and much joy was present, even after losing all the regular season games.
Doing what we say we are going to do and following through builds trust. Even more so when these are selfless and vulnerable acts for the greater good of the team. Leaders are not entitled to skip these steps and need to model these behaviors for any team to thrive. This was a moment where I knew what I had to do, even though it was unbelievably embarrassing for me. It was essential to show the team that they could trust me as their servant coach and show them they are more important than the game itself.
It was playoff time. Results to date weren’t great, yet the team continued to improve and most importantly, the girls were having fun. In Corporate America, my job might be at risk with losing every game and I would need to consider extreme actions. I knew we were improving and kept moving forward with being the servant leader the team needed me to be. On the last weekend of the season, we were down 18-8, and I was again pacing the floor encouraging, waving my arms, clapping my hands on every positive play. For this last game, we set our biggest targets for the “wig challenge.” It was 20 points and 17 rebounds (2017 for ease of memory). I suggested we get 3 baskets in the third quarter and 4 rebounds explaining that was all we needed for the third. While focusing on the present, they did it and the score became 18-14. Then for the 4th quarter, the same request, 3 baskets, and 4 rebounds. The energy level was increasing, the smiles brighter, the cheering greater than ever. Picture this, 30 seconds left in the game, the score is now 20-18. One more basket, one more rebound, we hit our goal! We shoot, we miss…..we get the rebound, we score…..boom! The girls “wigged” out and exploded with cheers of excitement like never before. They hit the goals that mattered to us as a team, and it didn’t even dawn on them at first that we had just tied the game that led to our first win of the season.
The girls inspired me and never gave up. They watched out for each other and became a stronger team that led to them achieving amazing goals together. This team felt safe to win or lose and focused on helping achieve the much greater outcomes of being true to each other.
My action challenge for you is to think about your part(s) on the many teams you are a part of. At work, in the community or the times that you are the leader. Find opportunities to put yourself out there and perform acts for the greater good of the team. Serve others rather than wait to be served. Lead by example, no matter what your role is, and encourage others to do the same.
Living a life that is in service to others, leads to new beginnings and unthinkable opportunities for all of us. I encourage you to open up and live your possible.