How Would a Five-Year-Old Evaluate Your Airtime?

04/07/2015 05:39 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2015

What subject do you give the most airtime to? If someone asked your team what you care about, what would they say? How about your family?

I regularly get a similar email from different people, in different jobs around the world that speaks to the issue of airtime. The email just goes something like this:

Dear Lisa,

I'm a top performer at XYZ company. Selling with Noble Purpose describes the way I treat my customers, I want to improve their lives. That's why I'm the number one salesperson, customer service rep, etc.

But... my boss (CEO, VP, etc.) doesn't care about customers, all he or she cares about is money.

I get some version of this same message at least once a week; a heartfelt missive from a top performer who cares about customers, but is disheartened because all their boss seems to care about is money.

When I first started getting these, I was at a loss for a reply. Were all these top performers right? Were their leaders really driven solely by quarterly earnings, and their own bonuses? Was there an inkling of customer care inside them?

I didn't want to ignore the problem. So, I emailed the top performers back saying: "Thanks for your note. I tell you what, send me your VP or CEO's address, and I'll send them a copy of Selling with Noble Purpose on me.

Then it started to get weird. I began to hear from the leaders. Their emails went something like this:

Dear Lisa,

Thanks for the Noble Purpose book. This is exactly what I have always believed about business, it's all about the customer.

But... I can't get the people who work for me to understand that. All they care about is money.

At first, I assumed it was cognitive dissonance. But when I kept getting the same email over and over, I realized, this is a widespread problem.

The senior leaders believe that their business is all about the customer.

The front line people believe that their business is all about the customer.

Yet, neither believed that the other cared about customers. Why the disconnect? Then I remembered the kindergartners, and the airtime issue.

When my youngest daughter was in kindergarten, I regularly volunteered in her classroom. One day, the kids were making Mother's Day presents. The teacher asked, "What are your mother's favorite things to do?"

The kids wrote and drew examples of the activities their moms loved. My job was to staple their pages together into booklets. Naturally, I read them.

I was stunned. According to an entire classroom of five and six-year-olds, the two things most of their mothers loved best were: cleaning and sleeping.

Clearly, this merited further investigation, I asked a few of the kids, how do you know your mommy loves to clean and sleep so much?

Their answers? "She talks about it all the time. She's always saying we have got to clean up around here. Or she says, I am sooo tired; I have to get some sleep."

Because cleaning and sleeping were given the most airtime in their homes, the kids naturally assumed those two activities were the most important things to their mothers.

The same thing happens in organizations. Whatever the leader gives the most airtime to is assumed to be the most important thing to that leader.

How are you spending your airtime?

Lisa McLeod is the creator of the popular business concept Noble Purpose and author of the bestseller, Selling with Noble Purpose. She is a sales leadership consultant and keynote speaker. Organizations like Genentech, Google, and Kaiser hire her to help them grow revenue.