Like so many, I came from humble beginnings. I grew up in the lower middle class and my early family life was tumultuous to say the least. When I was 7, my father left my mother and me. We struggled mightily. It wasn’t long before she met someone new, the man who would become my stepfather. He was retired from the Marine Corps after more than 20 years and had served three tours in Vietnam. Looking back, I can see that he suffered from undiagnosed PTSD for most of my formative years. Our relationship was one of soldier and commander. I was always kept in my place, and his idea of motivation was extreme verbal assault. Chores, discipline, and standards of perfection became my new reality. Anything less than perfection was met with damaging criticism and in some cases corporal punishment. This was my first experience of leadership—fear and intimidation.
In Western corporate culture, the hierarchy and command-and-control dynamic from the military inspired today’s corporate leadership paradigm. While it works for the military, its impact in the corporate world has been unhealthy for decades. Corporate leadership is still male-dominated and as a result expresses too much in the way of the alpha male ego and toxic masculinity. What slows any sort of evolution is that compassionate and self-aware leadership is often seen as weak and ineffective and gets squashed by the status quo.
In 2022, following a pandemic that has rocked the world’s population in terms of perception and priorities, it seems time for a change in this outdated and damaging leadership paradigm. Today there is more than enough evidence-based research and data to justify forging a new path for those with the courage to do so. We are seeing cracks in the old foundation. Meditation rooms, flexible schedules, four-day work weeks, even “napping pods” have found their way into some corporations, largely in Silicon Valley, but hey, it’s a start!
So why should we care? The old systems and philosophies have been in place for more than a century and many companies continue to be successful using these styles. But what is the cost? What is exchanged for results in the lives of those who work at our institutions? What is the ripple effect from corporate offices into society? Well, anxiety and stress levels are at an all-time high while diseases associated with each are rising exponentially. Companies are clamoring for loyalty, engagement, and higher productivity yet wondering why these things are so difficult to attain.
I believe there is a way to achieve loyalty, engagement, and higher productivity while also creating a healthy work environment that supports and uplifts those on our teams. It can be done by establishing a leadership philosophy throughout your organization that is based on values of compassion, empathy and support. And yes, contrary to popular belief, you can lead this way and still hold people accountable for their performance.
A leadership philosophy called Servant Leadership reverses the old top-down paradigm of CEOs, directors, and managers being supported by the rest of the associates. Instead, those serving in the day-to-day, task-oriented roles are at the top of the pyramid, supported by the leadership teams. A servant leader’s job is to be of service to those task-oriented roles by removing obstacles that prevent their success, making sure they have the necessary resources to function at the highest level, and providing compassionate leadership and development to help them grow as people.
Leadership through fear or intimidation can inspire quick bursts of productivity and the capacity to meet deadlines or important milestones, but it comes at the cost of your associates’ own sense of value or well-being. That can rapidly create high turnover rates, a sense of toxicity across whole teams or departments, and the impression that escalating intimidation is needed to continue to get things done. In such environments, employees are so focused on not making errors that any room for creativity—or even enjoyment—is squeezed out.
To create engagement, to build trust and respect, and to build loyalty all require the same thing. Make sure that associates at all levels within the organization feel seen, heard, valued, and appreciated. When people feel safe, appreciated, and respected, they are highly productive, they are grateful to the leaders and the organization, and a natural state of engagement and loyalty are established with ease. Additionally, instead of carrying their stress and anxiety out into the world and into their homes, they take a state of contentment, pride, and satisfaction. They show up as better people.
The key is to make this new and improved form of leadership consistent throughout the organization. Without consistent leadership, a culture can never fully develop into a cohesive ecosystem as intended because there is a hodgepodge of incompatible leadership philosophies at play. If developing a mission statement is like creating a blueprint for organizational success, creating consistent leadership is like having a good contractor. You need someone (or a team of people) to help coordinate all the moving pieces and to provide guidance for bringing it all together to support the common goal.
Discordant or dysfunctional leadership can result in an inconsistent experience of the organization and its culture for each associate, depending on who their leaders are. It can also create headaches when identifying key performance indicators and trying to reach organizational goals. Everyone might agree on where you’re going, but no one is on the same page about how to get there. By requiring every leader to adopt the same leadership philosophy, organizations operate with consistent in the values and practices. Every associate can expect and experience consistency from any leader, no matter what role they hold. It also serves to solidify commonality at the leadership level, so everyone is moving forward in the same direction.
The ripple effect and influence of a proper leadership culture cannot be underestimated. Isn’t it time to change the paradigm and lead with our hearts? I submit that if we do, not only will our businesses thrive but we will be contributing to a better world at large.
This Post is republished on Medium.
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