What is the most satisfying part of your work? Have you ever really thought about it? I hope so. Sometimes we can spend disproportionate time thinking about what we hate about our work versus what brings us satisfaction. If that pinged something deep inside you, stop reading and go make a list – even if it only has one thing on it – about what brings you joy from your work. If you can’t come up with one – well then you and I need to have a deeper conversation.
Ok, I just started this post and already I’ve digressed. Back to the point. For me, there are two incredibly satisfying parts of my work: The first is watching a leader I’m working with really see and reconnect to their highest self – there is nothing like it. The second is achieving alignment amongst a group of leaders. I love that moment when a group of people that have been working together for so long actually SEES each other for the first time.
Here's what I mean by that – we get thrust into a lot of groups in our lives, our families, school projects, friend groups (sometimes you’re thrust into those without realizing it) and later in our lives, work groups – our teams. In the best scenarios these people become like our family (in a good way) and we look forward to spending time together. In the worst case they become the bane of our existence. Now imagine that the ones that don’t work so well together move up the ranks or are brought together from different places to lead bigger teams or even the broader organization. Not so great. But it happens All. The. Time. And you know what, we just accept it. Sometimes people show up to these leadership groups completely aware of how little they have in common or how little they enjoy working together – and just do it. They just make it work. That’s excellent. Until it’s not. That’s where we come in.
We’ll get a call usually that seems pretty straightforward on the surface – employee moral is in the tank, customers are boycotting because of a decision the brand made, the financials are going in the wrong direction, you get the point. The first instinct of many of these organizations is to try something different – change the marketing, hire great PR, create an employee engagement campaign, do layoffs, hire new blood … make a change, in some way. All that sounds good, right? I’m sure you can think of a time one of those things fixed the issue. Those things do help -- at first.
We take a different tact. My first instinct in those situations is to observe how the leadership team works together. In that observation so many things become clear. That’s when you see the cracks in the foundation, where you see bad habits that have calcified, leaders that are disengaged, others that are hiding their spark to keep the peace, lack of diversity in decision making – I call these nuggets of gold. So many areas for vast improvement – so many areas of opportunity. The trouble is that usually all these things are filed under “that’s the way we do it here.”
And I’ll ask: How is that working for you?
There is a resistance to changing the way a team has been working together or changing the way you respond to/manage the CEO/leader. Usually this is because behaviors must change first, and that work is slow and doesn’t give you the immediate payoff. I get that. So, we start with immediate payoff and get to the gritter work later. That payoff is teaching leaders to see each other without their own assumptions getting in the way.
In team and leadership dynamics, every person has their own motivations and intentions. But for the most part, everyone is also invested in successful outcomes. We have a common place to start from – everyone wants to be successful! When you take that one very common motivation and begin to dig – that’s where the real enlightenment happens. We will usually begin to explore how each member of the leadership team would do things if they had total control and WHY they would do it that way. The why is so important. If you ask someone why enough and then really listen to what they are saying you learn so much. In that listening you begin to see new motivations you hadn’t expected, and you even catch a sliver of vulnerability in others that humanizes them.
The next step is… just kidding, did you really think I was going to give away our entire methodology in a blog post?
No, that’s not why I want to stop here. I am stopping here because just this process alone takes time and it takes commitment. What happens in just this first part of the process is so eye opening. I’ve witnessed leaders who have worked together for decades begin to understand each other in more profound ways after one day when we explore each other’s motivations like this. There are few better feelings for me professionally.
Misalignment among leaders is one of the largest contributors to organizational chaos. Which is great news – because it can be fixed. All it takes is little bit of curiosity about others and the ability to set aside your own assumptions and open your mind. To come into a dialogue with only awareness about yourself to share and to listen to others do the same.