Corporate Courage & EQ

courageI recently visited a large Fortune 200 company. The purpose of my visit was, in part, to process some challenging negative feedback that many middle managers had for their senior executives during their annual 360 Feedback Surveys. In talking with many of the senior executives, I found that their perspective was they were convinced that managers and leaders want the big title, the big role, the big compensation package, and the big office, but not the accountability that comes with it.  Several examples were given of deadlines and mutually-agreed specific, measurable goals left unmet by the middle managers.  In conversations with the middle managers, however, they provided–as might be expected–a dramatically different perspective. They argued that senior leaders were setting unrealistic goals and they were being forced to achieve the kind of success that would be considered tremendous in times of abundant wealth, resources, and time… but they were asking this of them during these tough times when people are being asked to do more with less and are in a gut-wrenching state of fear of taking risks.

Which group is right? Should the senior executives not expect high levels of performance during these times so that they can all get out of the present recession faster and healthier? Should the middle managers not expect the time, resources, and proper goal-setting? Both are equally fair requests. Yet, both parties are to blame for the present acrimonious situation.

The reality is that neither side wants to accept that they are both operating in an emotional situation akin to being held a “hostage”. But to what are they being held hostage?

  1. Personal fears and insecurities
  2. Past results and behaviors

After questioning both sides a bit deeper, I uncovered a surprise consensus – both sides were deeply afraid of speaking up… lacking the courage to ask meaningful questions to a plan/strategy, to challenge conventional wisdom, to explore new ideas, and to solicit outside support. This, to them, would be an implicit admission that they are doing something wrong. 

I share this powerful experience because I continue to be alarmed at how little attention we pay to the “emotional state” of employees. The past 9+ months have felt like a hostage situation and it is virtually impossible to be creative/innovative and to perform highly in this state. A form of imbalance in the equilibrium of work has occurred and people know things are just going to be different.

My recommendations are the following:

  1. Take the “emotional temperature” of both yourself and your staff every day.
  2. Based on your reading, what immediate interventions can you induce to diffuse those powerful fears? You know yourself and your culture best.
  3. Revisit what it means to be “empowered” — everyone has felt that at least once in their professional lives — what did it feel like then? What systems were in place that allowed you to be empowered? Make these lists and do not rest until they are manifested fully within your organization.

It takes “corporate courage” to buck this trend, to seek the new, to ask the simple yet powerful questions, and to change the way you and other key stakeholders can effectively collaborate. It all starts with eliminating fear — that dreadful and invisible force we all know is presently around us.

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4 responses to “Corporate Courage & EQ

  1. Your summation ‘fear’ and from the title ‘Courage’ go hand and glove with a well stated article. When ‘times get tough the tough get going!’ The leaders who arrived by time in grade or on the shirt tales of an unqualified ‘professional’ relationship are worried just now that they may be discovered for their incompetency or made to look like a fool for any attempt that fails. On the other hand the true leaders are on the aggressive side of overcoming their fears working with the courage of their convictions. They’re continuing to plan, strategize and act on those convictions knowing that the pay off will be bigger now when they succeed. If you are not afraid this is the best time to establish yourself. It’s unfortunate but during these times, people do not want to stick their necks out unless they can win the bet. Unfortunately Fear during these times creates ‘paralysis by analysis’ or don’t stick your neck out too far! Courage on the other hand will keep Open Communications and information flowing. Beyond wini-win, everyone should be recognizing and embracing the ideas and suggestions of any of the contributors who are setting new standards with their strategies and actions during these times.

  2. The one point that hit home was, “the fear of speaking out”?

    Transparency at all cost is wonderful until it cost your job and it seems to me the person who speaks out is usually first to go. The irony is, the person who speaks out is generally more passionate, knowledgeable and are demonstrating natural leadership qualities. At the end of the day it is how you deliver you message and taking emotion out of the delivery is essential to ones success.

    So, we are left with (in some cases) being managed by ego, insecurities and lack of depth of knowledge which in my humble opinion contributes to the first two categories.

    Solution: One of the most refreshing companies I have had the privileged to visit is Zappos. Tony Hsieh, the CEO leads by example (you have to see it to believe it). He works in cubicle and prior to my visit you would have to drag me kicking and screaming into one, but now, I would not work in any other place – unless everyone else had offices:).

    Tony, Alfred and the gang embrace and promote social networking within their organization and the results are; very low attrition, a productive and healthy culture & environment. Their people are not only allowed but are encouraged to gravitate towards their passion and the platform that essentially paves the way is Twitter, of all thing.

    Perhaps the promotion of social networking within an environment not only helps people grow and be productive but also provides an emotional outlet that can be monitored, analyzed and provide valuable 3d insight? This new platform could provide senior managers with the information necessary to make the right decisions.

    I am a huge fan of emotional self awareness and for people to learn how to take control and take advantage of these elements that drive are existence. Because when we do, this will mark the day we finally walked out of the cave.

    Cheers Ron

  3. Pingback: Best Inspirational Video of 2009 « Professional Development

  4. Pingback: A Different Kind of Safety « EQmentor

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