The image of corporations as "hard-ass", "bottom-line" machines of productivity is appealing to those who wish to believe that money comes from automatic sources that respond to cold, hard, practical and rational interventions. That has been the history of corporate America and the results are proof of it.
Bernie Madoff. The Enron Scandal. 70% attrition rate in the IT sector in America. 1484 CEOs leaving their jobs in 2008. Thirty months as the average time that a CEO stays in office. 80% of Americans not trusting corporate executives and roughly half of all managers not trusting their own leaders. Maybe it actually is time to re-think corporate philosophy and perhaps we should think deeply about it together.
First and foremost, we need to recognize that money is generated by people and that these disasters I mentioned above are multidimensional in cause and effect. One relevant aspect of them is "trust" and we somehow need to figure out how to increase the trust throughout all levels in corporations without disempowering the leaders.
I am not a Wall Street basher. I think that Wall Street has done great things for us amidst its myriad disasters. Tyrannical CEOs, while often insensitive and hierarchical, also often come from a place of motivation to make companies successful. How can we come together to reflect on the avalanches of trust that have created this great instability? Is there a way that we can avoid polarization of strategies? This, I believe, will be our greatest challenge as we think of creating better lives for ourselves and others.
In the corporate world, one way we could achieve a greater priority on trust would be to tie in changes in social behavior (trust, empathy, transparency, home-work sensitivity) to productivity variables and figure out how this will impact making money. Also, I think that we need to do some soul searching about why we might truly want to change our work environments.
On account of the disasters that the former generations of leaders will leave us with, we cannot afford to be punitive and judgmental even though we can respect the consequences of foul methods and behaviors. Essentially, I think that we have to think of ourselves as a team: a group of people who are genuinely trying to make it work for everyone while we try to make it work for ourselves as well. This is difficult and a challenge but something we need more of a focus on as we strive to make corporate American a better place in which to thrive.
What are some of the ways we can avoid just turning the current crisis on its head for the sake of looking like we're doing something different until it comes back to bite us?
1. Avoid leader bashing: While leaders are responsible for outcomes in organizations, and their results should be examined and followed, they are presumably chosen to be leaders because they have the qualities that could lead people and their organizations. While their predecessors may have committed some heinous crime, we should make sure that we protect our leaders from scrutiny that disrupts their abilities to lead. Instead, for example, we might encourage a leader-initiated desire to share details and all scrutiny should be in the service of improving the team. Frightening our leaders into submission is an unwise idea.
2. Decrease fear in organizations: Since fear activates the same brain region that trust deactivates, we know that decreasing fear will increase trust in organizations. Human resources can be more than just a trouble-shooting department; it can be a "fear detector" for the organization.
3. Align leaders with their followers: Conflicts help companies grow, but they can also disrupt the effective performance of a company. However, when the core values of two conflicting groups are aligned, this can be the anchor for all communication. If every participant in an organization has a role in designing the expression of core values, the synchrony of the various parts will be much greater.
4. Allow leaders to emerge: When leaders emerge rather then being appointed, there is a natural flow and energy that revitalizes organizations. Growing leaders within an organization can be an effective way to do this. Also, allowing people to step forward to represent the values they hold closest to their hearts can be helpful.
So, all in all, I think that social intelligence (with trust being a vital part of this) is a critical variable that can help improve work performance. Also, it can offer life to the mentality of money machines and help us address the foibles and failings that make us human before disaster strikes.
Srini Pillay, M.D. is CEO of NeuroBusiness Group: A Coaching Organization Designed to Empower Leaders and Their Organizations Through Methods Relating to Social Intelligence with Applied Brain Science as A Niche Tool That All Members Are Trained in Incorporating Into Coaching Protocols (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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