Much is being said about the generational differences we are seeing in our organizations:
- Younger/emerging talent are passing up promotions that require relocation or longer working hours.
- Talent believed to be happy in their current roles surprise us by departing.
- Younger talent is moving to other companies — often with lateral pay — because the companies appear to offer new and interesting development opportunities.
If it were not for health care security, we’d probably see even more of this job and company hopping. What is going on?
For the first time in history, we have three vastly different generations working side-by-side within our companies: baby boomers, Gen-Xers, and millennials. Here is a high-level descriptor of each:
Baby boomers, who are currently senior executives in most companies, were born roughly between 1946 and 1964. They accept authority figures, have a strong commitment to what they do and give maximum effort. Most of them live to work and would classify as workaholics. They understand that money is what buys experiences and freedoms. They will change jobs, but usually stay within the same industry.
Generation Xers, who are currently senior managers and rising leaders in most companies, were born roughly between 1965 and 1978. They like informality and are loyal to themselves and building their skills. As opposed to baby boomers who live to work; Generation Xers work to live and seek a bigger work-life balance. They have less confidence in long-term rewards and greater expectation for short-term rewards. They change jobs, change companies and move across industries. They are also prolific entrepreneurs.
Millenials, who are newer hires and are quickly climbing the ranks due to strong skills in networking, problem solving and technology, were born around 1979. They question authority and work hard for high value. They are smart workers and can get away with little effort to achieve maximum results. While many of them are seeing success in their jobs, they aren’t as interested in climbing the corporate ladder as baby boomers or Generation Xers. They view money as necessary to live a luxurious lifestyle. Their work and personal lives are integrated. They pursue self-improvement and value life-long learning.
What do we know about these millennials who represent the future work force for most companies? They are racially diverse. Some would call them color-blind, ignoring race and ethnicity. They are extremely independent, growing up with divorce, day care, single parents, latchkey parenting, and the technological revolution. They feel empowered. They feel secure. They are optimistic about the future.
They are blunt and expressive. They value self-expression over self-control. Making their point is most important. They are still younger than they seem; extremely adaptable, technologically savvy, learning-oriented, efficient multitaskers, and they are by far the best-educated generation in our history.
So, as baby boomer or Gen-X senior executives, how do we lead millennials?
Encourage their values. Visibly recognize their individuality and let them be expressive. If they want to champion a social responsibility project on behalf of the company, encourage them. Let them use such opportunities to refine their leadership and communication skills.
Give them input into decision-making. They want to understand not just “what,” but “why.” They are not challenging authority — they simply want to understand and learn.
Develop and mentor them. More than anything, this generation requires coaching and feedback. If they don’t get it, they will leave for a place where they will get it. They are accustomed to rapid feedback from their technology-influenced upbringing and world — and they don’t separate that from the workplace.
Show them how their work helps the bottom line. Like all employees, millennials want to know their contributions matter. Provide full disclosure. They are accustomed to the ugly truths. Be transparent.
Create customized career paths. Millennials do not value longevity, because they have not known it in their own lives. They do not see staying with a company as a good thing. They have not experienced loyalty, so they don’t know how to offer it. They will want to have frequent, specific-career conversations.
Provide access to technology. This is the smartest, most technically astute generation ever to enter our work force. If we can tap into their gifts, and be willing to modify practices that may not serve well anymore, we can harness some of the brightest and best talent our country has ever known.
Leading this new generation provides tremendous potential for companies — but it is not for the faint of heart. Millennials don’t want anything from their employer that is vastly different from prior generations. The difference is they will leave if they don’t get it.
Leslie W. Braksick is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), coauthor of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Braksick and her CLG colleagues work with leaders at all levels to ensure they tap into the discretionary performance of all generations of employees. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or email@example.com.
How vividly I remember learning to sail. It was at summer camp during junior high. The instructor explained the relationship of sail and wind, the rudder, and leaning with my body. He emphasized how the sailor must monitor and quickly adjust the variables, while navigating toward a specific destination.
It all seemed logical until I got into the boat and actually tried it. I remember how counterintuitive it was to tack left in order to go right. I felt overwhelmed at the need to adjust so many things simultaneously while also focusing on my destination. And the wind was so unpredictable. (I drank a lot of lake water that summer.)
As my sailing prowess improved, one thing quickly became apparent: success depended heavily upon my response to the wind — the unpredictable wind. Etched into my head was the learning: Sometimes, you need to tack left in order to head right.
I have seen this at play as I have coached executives to develop and progress in their careers. Sometimes, they need to tack left in order to head right. If you wait for the wind to pick up and fill your sails, you may find yourself sitting idle for a long time: waiting, wondering and missing the chance to advance by heading in a direction slightly different from the one they were expecting.
Many executives are finding that to move ahead they need to “tack left” and develop capabilities and career paths that differ from their expected course.
Here’s the proof: In a recent study, a colleague and I interviewed sitting CEOs of 27 Fortune 100 companies asking them, “What best prepared you for the CEO job you now hold?” The No. 1 response was not “running a bigger business unit.” Instead, No. 1 was “running a standalone business unit outside of the United States, with full P&L responsibility.”
For many, this job meant leaving a bigger business unit they were running in the U.S. — or a bigger function they were currently leading. This is not the usual sequence of career development. But the experiences gained in this slight detour taught these CEOs how to work in multiple currencies, in emerging markets, where English was not the first language. They had to know how to set up, implement, and nurture business partnerships and collaborations. They developed new sensitivities by living in another culture. Upon reflection, most of the CEOs saw this as their most valuable preparation for becoming CEO of a global company, and yet most of them did not predict it would be part of their development.
When you face a wind that stops your sails, or starts to take you in an unexpected direction, pause and ask yourself, “What do you really need to learn or demonstrate in order to be successful? And does this rerouting actually help you get there?” Remember that sometimes a lateral move or a half-step change can allow you to acquire skills and experiences you will need later on.
Whether sailing or running a business, we all know that the wind is neither predictable nor steady. It can rise and force you to act quickly, and it can die even faster, leaving you idle. The key is for executives, like sailors, to seize the wind and sometimes be prepared to tack left when you expect you will be heading right. Truly examining the equation for your success may convince you that tacking left to head right will not only enhance your capabilities toward your planned goal, but it just may unlock new opportunities you’ve never even thought about.
Leslie W. Braksick is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Braksick and her CLG colleagues work with executives to help them navigate the unexpected winds of business. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the past 20 years, I have worked with hundreds of executives who at some point confided, “I’m not sure this is really what I want to be doing anymore,” “It’s getting harder to gear up for travel,” or “I just don’t feel as sharp as I once was.”
And these statements usually are followed by: “Is it me?”
Well, yes — it is you. And me. And each of us at some point in our careers, if we are really honest and self-aware. So where does that leave you? Quit your job? Change careers? Move to the monastery in Tahiti?
Instead, begin by exploring the root of your discontent; what is causing you to really feel as you do and what are your options to change that?
Is the pace and intensity too much? It’s not unusual for an executive to feel like “enough is enough” and desire more free time where there is not 24/7 accountability and pressure.
Does managing no longer motivate you? Leading others can be exhausting and distance you from what most excites you about the company or industry. Some executives realize they’d rather advise or do something other than the day-to-day running of the business.
Has there been a change in your company? Has the composition of your board, leadership team, company ownership, brand positioning or core values left you less enthusiastic or feeling disconnected from the company you once loved to lead?
Do you simply feel underappreciated, unfairly compensated, or under challenged?
You didn’t just wake up suddenly feeling miserable about work. Your discontent has come on gradually and is more like an abrasion that doesn’t heal. Left untreated, the abrasion can become infected or maybe it already has. Remember that infections, untreated, often feel like general malaise.
So what can you do about it?
Find the quiet time to get away and have a candid conversation with yourself. Write out a “what bugs me” list about your work life. Be honest. It is most important that you discover what problem you are trying to solve.
Note the things on there that you influence directly or indirectly. Most executives are humbled when they are truly honest about how much they do or could influence about their work life and possibilities.
Jot down options given what you know. Do you need to designate “no meeting days” or “no travel days”? Do you need more frequent or less frequent contact with your board chair? Is your current organizational structure enabling you to be fully leveraged? Consider what would address the frustrations on your “what bugs me list.”
Have conversations with the appropriate persons to explore options. Gently explore with their confidential assurance, options to the “issues” that you are considering—or that they may suggest that you have not thought about. Talking with those who have a shared accountability for the company’s success is an important step toward addressing the issues you have noted.
Ignoring your “infection” or leaving it untreated will not produce a miracle cure, but taking positive actions that acknowledge and act on your discontent can.
The best gift you can give yourself is intellectual honesty regarding the sources of your frustration/weakened passion, and the options you have available. Once you understand the source of the problem, you can take steps to make necessary changes.
You owe this to your company, colleagues and shareholders who rely on you to lead with passion and commitment every single day. But most of all, you owe it to yourself. Doing nothing is doing something. Take action. You’ll be glad you did.
Leslie W. Braksick is cofounder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), coauthor of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Braksick and her CLG colleagues work with leaders at all levels to ensure work never stops working for them. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or email@example.com.
It is very difficult to lead during uncertain times, especially when leaders don’t have immediate answers that employees crave. It can take 6-18 months for a reorganization to be complete, to close facilities and transition people out, to finalize a sale or merger or to fend off an unwanted takeover. Leaders often are ill-equipped to help employees through the emotional trauma of such changes, while keeping them engaged to maintain business performance.
The performance dip does not need to happen and can be avoided. Many believe that a performance dip is unavoidable during times of intense change. Not true. Many high-performing organizations have demonstrated, over and over, that major change does not have to cause a performance dip. Well-led companies are resilient — able to absorb significant change — while maintaining or even enhancing performance. And they do it in ways that their employees notice and deeply appreciate.
Leaders of these high-performing organizations focus on the following five critical things, and do them very well.
1. Achieve business targets
During change, each employee loses an average of two hours of productivity a day. Leaders often shy away from asking for performance results, especially during times of emotional upheaval. But leaders must focus employees on specific business targets, provide the structure people need amid the uncertainty created by the change and ensure that productivity does not dip.
2. Support employees through the change
When change happens in an organization, employees want to know that their leaders care. Most leaders do care, they just have a hard time showing it, especially when emotions run high because employees fear or resent the change or because leaders themselves have difficulty adapting to the change. Leaders must help employees overcome the negative feelings that come with change, reframe unproductive thoughts and beliefs and unfreeze and try new behaviors to become personally resilient.
3. Track and resolve issues
Many unusual issues arise during times of change. Leaders can gain tremendous loyalty from employees by taking issues seriously and resolving them promptly. Keep a log of issues raised. Get back to people on what you learn. Let them know what you don’t know or can’t find out. Your honesty and follow-through, even when you don’t have answers, will win you great loyalty and discretionary performance.
4. Retain key personnel
This is the time when key people begin exploring their options — including leaving. Leaders need to take deliberate action to ensure that people know they are valued and are key assets to the company. Leaders need to take action every week to retain these key employees. The goal is to have no surprises. If a key performer is going to leave, leaders need to know in advance and have a manageable transition plan ready.
5. Communicate about the change
If leaders are not adequately prepared to answer employees’ questions and communicate the case for change and other key messages, it can stall progress and cause unnecessary churn. Leaders prepared with change communication tools feel confident and ready to talk openly about what is happening and are able to customize these discussions to meet employees’ needs.
Business today is synonymous with change. Leading well through periods of intense change requires a commitment to do so and the specific actions listed above to make it happen without a performance dip.
Leslie W. Braksick is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), co-author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Braksick and her CLG colleagues work with leaders at all levels to help them navigate through planned and unplanned strategic change. Reach her at 412-269-7240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nothing is more personally frustrating for a senior executive than regrettable losses. Learning after the fact that one of your most valuable employees has decided to leave for a “growth opportunity” elsewhere — or even “more earning potential” — is as frustrating as it gets for people-savvy leaders.
It’s a pull-your-hair-out moment where you ask yourself and your senior human resources person: “What signs did we miss on this one? Have you asked if she/he is willing to stay under any circumstances? What if we paid more — would that keep them here?”
Unfortunately, executives will see more of this turnover of top talent in the future, not less. The generation now in their first 10 years in the work force will work for an average of nine companies in their lifetime. These workers will chase opportunities for growth and development. They are a generation that has not experienced loyalty in their home lives or youth — and therefore they neither seek nor offer unconditional loyalty to their employers.
So, can anything be done to prevent unwanted attrition? Absolutely.
You have more influence over this than you may think. Absent a personal crisis or spouse relocation, leaders can significantly influence an employee’s decision to stay or leave. It starts with knowing the top five reasons why employees leave companies:
“I am not appreciated”— Employees report their hard work and contributions are neither appreciated nor valued by the company. They get little to no positive feedback for a job well done.
“No growth opportunities” — Employees report they see no growth or development opportunities in their current jobs or roles, nor are they being actively developed for their next role. They receive little to no career planning or development for the next job or role in the company.
“Peers” — Descriptions here range from peers behaving badly with no consequences to peers who exhibit a fraction of the effort yet receive the same pay and opportunities to peers who make life more difficult internally. Unacceptable behavior with no visible consequences drives away top performers.
“Values clash” — Employees reported being asked to do things that were incompatible with their own values. Examples: Being asked to sell products/services to people who didn’t need them; being asked to misrepresent facts or data. Honesty and integrity still matter a lot — people want to be proud of what they do and who they do it for.
“Compensation not commensurate with value creation” — This one is a post-bubble addition. Executives see the value of what they do to contribute to the company’s overall success but feel they are not rewarded commensurately. You have to ensure comp systems are differentially rewarding higher contributors.
These five should make your hair stand up. All but one reason resides in how people are managed, in how leaders lead. So if keeping your brightest and best talent is a priority for you and your company, be sure managers and leaders at all levels are taking the time to say and show how much they appreciate the contributions of the high performers. Engage those you want to keep, especially, in career-development conversations and development efforts.
Help them to actively learn, grow and prepare for their next role in your company. Act on bad and unwanted performance. Let the high performers see that you will not shy away from addressing bad behavior and performance in your organization. Lead by example, and they will repeat your same actions at their level. Demonstrate honesty and integrity in all that you do.
You don’t need to be a victim to unwanted attrition, but you do have to recognize that retaining your top talent just may require new leadership behaviors on your part.
Leslie W. Braksick is co-founder of CLG, Inc. (www.clg.com), author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Braksick and her CLG colleagues work with leaders at all levels to maximize performance in key areas—and to help executives do the right things to eliminate regrettable losses. Reach Braksick at email@example.com or at (412) 269-7240.
Companies spend an awful lot of time and dollars crafting the right vision statements. They want the vision to be inspirational, motivating — something that every person in the company will work hard to achieve. The vision statement gets displayed prominently in the office lobby. It gets laminated on cards for employees to carry in their wallets. It is on the website for all to see.
Companies hire expensive marketing consultants to ensure that their brand representation reflects the essence of their product differentiation. They want customers to understand how their product, service and program is different, better — and preferable. The words, logo, colors, font — no detail is left unattended.
In general, companies attend to new employee training pretty well. Manuals are created to guide how to do the right thing. Annual performance appraisal processes are in place to ensure that employees hear at least annually if what they are doing is consistent with what the company expects.
A lot of time, effort, thinking and money goes into getting the right behaviors started inside of a company.
Then there is the reality of what employees experience.
A company that touts “teamwork and collaboration” in its core values rewards its sales people with individual sales incentives that drive fierce competition between colleagues.
A company that touts “innovation” decides to downsize its R&D group, releasing those who went out on a limb for a major product innovation that, in the end, senior management decided not to fund.
A company that professes “honesty and integrity in all that we do” goes searching for any sales that can be pulled into this quarter — so the company can hit its quarterly revenue and profit targets for Wall Street.
Too often, a company will unwittingly ask for and reward behaviors that are completely inconsistent with its stated vision, values and training. Employees quickly observe the difference between an organization’s stated vision and values and what they actually see practiced and encouraged every day. The clash between words and actions weakens employees’ commitment to the organization, causes distrust and lower followership of senior leaders and decreases allegiance to the company as a whole. The organization begins to get a lot less than what its employees are capable of giving — and employees experience less satisfaction from a work environment that has the potential to be so much better. Everyone loses.
Likewise, when employees see their leaders doing what it really takes to satisfy a major client, they know that this is what they, too, should do. When they see a senior leader taking the time to thank front-line employees for their tremendous efforts and discretionary performance, they know they, too, should do the same.
When employees see management working collaboratively across different business units, when they see supply chain, sales and customer service working together to solve issues versus engaging in a blame game of who screwed up or who caused “the miss,” they know that the stated values for “a culture of performance excellence” and “teamwork” are real and alive in their company.
Employees mirror what they see practiced in their organizations. They will strive to live out the vision and values — only until they see behaviors inconsistent with the vision allowed or encouraged, knowingly or unknowingly. Employees figure out pretty quickly what the company really expects from its people and what it really takes to advance.
The hard part isn’t getting the words in the vision statement sign right. The hard part is ensuring that those words translate into behaviors that leaders at all levels, model and encourage every single day. Look no further than the actions of your people to know what behaviors are being modeled at the top of the house.
Leslie W. Braksick is Co-Founder of CLG Inc. and author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010) and Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2007). Braksick advises top executives, their leadership teams and boards of directors on issues of strategy execution, leadership effectiveness and organizational performance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Companies often launch special project teams, task forces and committees to get important work done. Often it makes great sense: charter a small group with a distinct purpose, let them work quickly, and get their findings/recommendations.
These special teams offer tremendous advantages. They give executives the chance to observe different people’s performance. Special groups can bypass the bureaucracy and avoid organizational churn that mainstream efforts can stir up. There are all kinds of benefits for using special teams.
However, lurking behind the launch of special project teams may be an unacknowledged dissatisfaction with those accountable for that work. Rarely are there honest conversations with them about why the project team is being launched instead of asking them to either perform or oversee the work. Rarely are they given such caring feedback, which might help them to actually get better.
Let’s consider a few real-life examples:
A team is formed to evaluate a potential joint venture in China. (The head of strategy and business development group were bypassed for this important work.)
A small group is assigned to evaluate the organization’s culture change needs. (The CEO lacked confidence in the human resources organization but that feedback was never shared directly with HR. It was, however, shared obliquely with others when they asked why HR was not leading this effort.)
A team is pulled together to determine if a new product line, targeting a growing demographic, makes sense. (Corporate’s new product development group and head of innovation were both bypassed when this project was launched. And the special team was told to keep its work confidential until they were told otherwise.)
You have to stop and ask: was a special project team really necessary in each of these situations? Or did the executives opt for special teams because they lacked confidence that those normally responsible could perform the quality of work they were seeking? And if they lacked such confidence, did they give the individuals who hold those jobs the respect of telling them, which would have been a step toward helping them get better?
I would say this: If, in fact, the special project teams are a workaround, then the first one who needs to change behaviors is the executive in charge. Delaying the dealing with a performance issue or competency gap only perpetuates mediocrity in the organization, and weakens the leader’s effectiveness. Imagine if the whole organization did that same thing.
Another issue to watch for is how implementation of project team recommendations are handled. Because the team was structured from the outset to work in parallel to the core organization, there is no “permanent home” or ownership for what is recommended, let alone what is implemented. This is a serious problem, because the game is won or lost on execution, not on the greatness of the ideas.
So what should your takeaways be? First, sometimes using special project teams is exactly the right thing to do. However, before you launch a special project team, task force, or committee, ask yourself: are you working around a capability or performance gap in your own organization? If so, have you dealt with the people/performance concerns directly — in a caring, yet clear and constructive way?
And second, if you want to be a respected leader whom others look up to, and if you want others to freely discuss the “real issues” and to address performance issues, you need to be the first in line to model the right behavior. As a leader, people are watching you for cues all of the time. Be the leader you want and expect others to be.
Leslie W. Braksick, PhD is the Co-Founder of CLG, Inc. (www.clg.com) and author of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010) and Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2006). Dr. Braksick coaches and consults with top executives and their boards on issues of leadership effectiveness, succession, and strategy execution. Braksick can be reached at email@example.com.
Many leaders will change their roles and/or companies in the years to come — and statistics indicate that over half of those leaders will fail in their new assignments. But leadership transition failures can be avoided if success is engineered from the outset. Below are 10 top strategies to ensure a leader’s success in his or her new role.
1. Develop (fit-for-purpose) 120-day transition plan.
Failure to plan is to plan for failure. In the first several months, your time is stretched. Take the time to think through what you need to learn, whom you must get to know and what needs to be done with high/medium/low priority. Document your plan and follow it.
2. Accelerate your understanding of the business and organization .
As part of your transition plan, decide what you need to learn and from whom and schedule meetings with them ahead of others. Put an emphasis on reading, listening and learning, and absorb as much as possible.
3. Connect meaningfully with key stakeholders.
Meet with key people during your earliest days. Ask their observations on key issues. Be a superb listener. Take notes. Answer their questions. Give them the chance to know you better. Through your words and actions, show you care.
4. Ensure clarity of direction; create momentum for business performance.
People want to hear your expectations for the business and where you want to take it. Make certain everyone knows what success looks like and what results and behaviors are most important to succeed. Keep people’s heads in the game by helping them focus on the business first.
5. Follow through on your commitments.
Leaders want to be seen as making decisions and taking action. Resist making commitments early on. If a leader fails to follow through, the seeds of skepticism and distrust are planted. For commitments you do make, write them down and enlist support in tracking and fulfilling them.
6. Actively listen and communicate often.
Leadership effectiveness is rooted in communicating well and often. Don’t leave this to chance — always be clear through well-thought-out communications, both formal and informal.
7. Model the teamwork you seek from others.
Take advantage of your newness to role-model collaboration, trust, openness and support for one another. Enhance the working relationships among existing team members and departments.
8. Ensure you have a winning team
You’ll need to change the people — or replace the people. Transitions provide an opportunity to assess and grow existing talent, to realign the talent you have or to bring in new people. Prioritize cultivating a winning leadership team — they are a reflection of you.
9. Manage your work-life balance
During leadership transitions, your work and personal life will be out-of-whack. Plan for this. Communicate openly about this “transition season” with your family and closest friends, and when you are with them, make that time count — focus only on them.
10. Ensure you have a trusted and caring source of feedback and support
There is no substitute for having a trusted professional with whom you can talk offline, seek counsel, test ideas and get feedback at all times, on any issue. Many leaders rely on an executive coach, trusted adviser or mentor to assist as they navigate new waters in their new role. This is not a time for heroism and going it alone.
Managing through leadership transitions from one job to another, or one company to another, requires careful leadership behaviors and behavioral management. This benefits you, your employees and shareholders. Use the top 10 strategies to ensure your success.
Leslie W. Braksick, Ph.D., is the co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com) and author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” (2010) and “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits” (2000, 2006). Braksick coaches and consults with top executives and their boards on issues of leadership effectiveness, succession and strategy execution. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I once gave a scintillating talk to 500 company leaders on the power of feedback. Scientifically, feedback is the most powerful motivator of performance, I explained — even more powerful than money. I shared case examples of productivity increases in diverse settings — from chemical plants to railroads to insurance claim processing centers — achieved and sustained simply via supervisors giving their direct reports feedback on their performance. Supervisors gave praise for performance that met or exceeded goals and constructive dialogue when performance was off-target.
I underscored the key features of effective feedback — immediacy, specificity and sincerity — so every leader there could be even more effective with their teams going forward. To cap my remarks, I said, “Recall the impact you felt when your boss took time to share about your performance of something important to the business — and how powerful it was to get praise from someone you respected.” I wanted to make sure these leaders never underestimated the power behind their greatest leadership weapon: feedback to their people.
After my talk, a distinguished gentleman approached the podium — the company chairman. He must have left his smile at his seat; I vividly recall that it was nowhere nearby.
“Leslie,” he said in a scolding tone. “I enjoyed your talk very much — in fact, I agree with just about every point you made.” He went on: “It’s clear that what you shared is backed by the science of behavior and decades of experience and success. But I have one question for you: Who pumps the pumper?”
Huh? I looked at him quizzically. He repeated: “I want to know who pumps the pumper?”
That one took me a minute. Then it clicked. He meant, “Who motivates the leader? Who tells the boss when he or she does a great job?” From the look on his face, this was not just a philosophical question. Here was a man who sat at the top of his organization’s pyramid, and I guessed that he had probably gone a long, long time without hearing much praise for his efforts. His question seemed to come from a deep place of personal experience.
So, who does pump the pumper?
We can say it’s the board’s role to encourage and motivate the CEO/president. But in this case, he was chairman — so there was no one higher.
Again: Who pumps the pumper?
The answer is quite simple, actually: We pump the pumper. Or we should. It’s up to you and me, regardless of our role or level in the company. But it doesn’t happen often enough.
Time and again, my CEO clients have shared powerful stories of how much it meant to them to get an e-mail, voice mail, phone call or handwritten note from an employee, co-worker or direct report, thanking them — telling them of the positive impact of something they said or did. And I can tell you these CEOs never qualify their exuberance because the “praiser” was lower in the organization. Actually, their puffed chests were bigger because the praise came from a junior person in the company.
The top leaders and executives of companies, “the pumpers,” go for long periods without any feedback or praise for all they do. And when they do get it, they are deeply touched and highly motivated. We expect them to have the energy and motivation to pump everyone else — but we need to be better at doing our job of pumping them.
So, who pumps the pumper?
We all do. Don’t assume that senior leaders in your company know how much you appreciate all that they do. Tell them. Tell them often.
About: Leslie W. Braksick is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com) and author of “Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew” (2010) and “Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits” (2006). Braksick coaches and consults with top executives and their boards on issues of strategy execution, leadership effectiveness and executive succession. Reach her at email@example.com.