The Huge Leadership Challenge
“So that you can have some perspective, allow me to remind you that this last year, transforming TechnoGuard into a company that people are happy and proud to work for, has been one of my biggest priorities. I have chosen this as a strategy because it helps us attract and keep talent, inspires people to collaborate better, to innovate more, and to come up with greater solutions for our customers. And it leads to significantly higher performance and better results.”
I looked around the table to make sure my points were being heard. The executives instinctively looked away, but the board members leaned in closer.
“Extensive research shows that highly-engaged employees deliver up to 50 percent higher performance than those who are less engaged. And companies that have highly engaged employees are on average 20 percent more profitable, and over time they deliver significantly higher shareholder return.”
I was emphasizing the business outcomes, knowing that at the end of the day, the board would judge me on the results I delivered, not on the level of happiness of our employees. However, it was my goal to make them realize the overwhelming evidence that the two were mutually inclusive.
“In spite of all the evidence that employee’s level of engagement directly correlates with company performance - the higher the engagement, the better the results - the majority of US workers state that they are not engaged in their jobs.” I looked intently at the members of the board, making sure they all were listening to what I had to say.
“Therefore, the big question is this,” I continued, “How do we, as a company, go against this trend? How do we create a company culture where people feel happy and engaged and motivated - and deliver great performance as a consequence?” I stopped to pour myself a glass of water, primarily to give them time to reflect on my questions.
After a brief pause, I continued, “Many organizations and leaders make the mistake of thinking of the disengaged employees as the problem, as if people choose to be disgruntled and not care. The truth is that lack of engagement is rarely a choice, but rather a symptom, a consequence, of something else.”
I was pleased to see that I still had everyone’s undivided attention.
“The real problem, according to a number of studies is the lack of humane leadershipand trust that exists in most workplaces. When people don’t feel safe, respected, and valued and are treated as “resources” instead of human beings, they end up just showing up at work, doing the bare minimum, just waiting for the day to be over. Disengagement is to a large extent a survival mechanism, and it leads to bad outcomes for people, for companies—and ultimately for the shareholders.”
A few were nodding to that last remark, and Travis was taking notes.
I stood up from my seat and walked over to the whiteboard.
“According to Gallup, the high level of disengaged employees cost US businesses alone more than $500 billion dollars per year.” I wrote the number on the whiteboard.
“In addition, you have the cost of burn-outs, stress-related health problems, and personal misery because of brutally long work days, minimal time for rest—and family time and, in many places—a total absence of joy in the workplace.”
I looked at the highly accomplished business people around the table.
“In short, and to be brutally honest with you,” I said, “the corporate world has a huge leadership challenge. The old models are outdated and ineffective. Command and control doesn’t work anymore.” I paused for a deep breath. “It’s time for leaders, companies, and their boards to embrace a more humane leadership style and do what their shareholders are asking them to do: create financially healthy, sustainable, and thriving companies. And to do that, they need to start with caring about—and investing in—their people.”
An excerpt from my novel Fly, Butterfly; Maya Williams, the narrator, telling it as it is.