How Does Being A Vulnerable Leader Enable You To Achieve More?

How Does Being A Vulnerable Leader Enable You To Achieve More?

Strength, courage, fortitude - there are so many descriptors that one thinks of when we imagine those we would like to follow. In our proverbial march through the darkness which can sometimes be our working world, we want captains to which we can grant our trust. Their shoulders should be broad enough to carry our worry and their voice should be clear, giving us the confidence to feel safe in troubled times. But there’s another important aspect that we should expect of our leaders. We’ve grown more aware in recent decades that leaders should possess a certain degree of humanity and empathy in the way they govern. The focus on emotional intelligence within the world of business leadership isn’t just a ‘feel good’, these attributes have increasingly become de rigueur as we’ve learned that leaders must think and feel and truly care for those in their organization.

But, why should we care about our bosses showing their soft underbelly to the rest of us? And, how does being a vulnerable, authentic, transparent leader contribute to your firm going farther, doing more and achieving the goals you’ve set?

Knowing How Our Leaders Feel Enables Us To Push Harder

I’ve previously discussed the importance of honesty being an enabler for those who report to us. A senior-level leader or manager of line-level employees has an enormous impact on the performance of their teams simply through being open about the challenges we face. This kind of unfiltered truth empowers the right kind of team. But there’s more to being vulnerable than just stating the facts about how we are trending or how many points we need to make up in our comp growth. Your direct or indirect reports want to know how you feel. Why? Because they want to know how to feel. They are watching you for cues. It’s one of the reasons we all look at the flight attendant when the plane we are on hits choppy air. ‘Okay, she’s smiling and chill… I can go back to watching Kung Fu Panda.’ But, what do I do if I look up and my flight attendant has fear in his eyes? Not a good feeling….

At town halls and roundtables I’ve hosted over the years or at those being facilitated by leaders more senior to me, there is one question which is the number one most asked: ‘What keeps you up at night'?’ Why do so many professionals what to know this answer from their superiors? Because those employees are trying to decide what they should be losing sleep over. What matters? It’s us looking at our flight attendant and deciding when we should adopt crash position.

The flow of us sharing our vulnerable transparency looks something like this:

  • Being transparent about how we feel as leaders helps our teams calibrate and explore their own feelings.

  • Understanding their feelings helps them decide how to respond to them.

  • Responding to and categorizing these feelings is a critical part of our teams getting on with the business of doing their jobs.

  • Our teams doing their jobs well allows us to achieve our goals.

The entire process starts with us, as leaders, helping our teams explore those emotions and our vulnerable transparency is the spark that lights that fire.

Vulnerability + Mission Objectives x Alignment = Achievement

Over an 11 year period I had the good fortune of working with Starbucks Coffee Company and experienced what many of us during those years believed to be a sort of Camelot period of our working lives. Incredibly healthy company culture? Check. Reward and compensation models light years ahead of many competitors? Check. Quality and brand standards that were the envy of many other companies? Check. Those of us working in that organization experienced personal and professional growth and felt proud to play a role in a blisteringly fast-paced growth story. But, the train ride wasn’t without bumps. All organizations have problems and difficult quarters. The way in which they choose to handle them is what makes some firms truly world class.

During a particularly critical period for Starbucks, our quarterly results were even more scrutinized than was typical. The company was opening a lot of stores - five per business day at that time - and hiring, training, building… it was fever pitched. By this time Starbucks had built a model that worked and had strong processes, though some weren’t perfect. On an average ticket which is derived from coffee beverages, you can imagine that profitability and margin efficiency are benchmarks that must be protected. Flow through is critical and pennies on the dollar make a huge difference across thousands of units.

During this particular period of time, Starbucks was experiencing some strain achieving flow through targets and this wasn’t a good look for the street. Some difficult calls had to be made - not of the layoff or shortchanging quality variety - but some spending and cost control measures were needed. Who would lead this effort? Orin Smith, our COO, that’s who. Orin was an extremely skilled operations leader and he had worked with the finance teams to do the math and knew what action needed to be taken at store level. The controls and margin improvements would be mandated for every store in the enterprise. Communicating and executing such a strategy isn’t easy. There were considerations for cascading the plan, assurances for the mindshare required of all leaders in the organization as well as processes for ongoing measurement of how well we had implemented the directives.

How did it start? With Orin’s voice.

On a series of calls and voice mails delivered to the leaders all across the organization, Orin spoke personally about why these actions were necessary, how we would go about them, and most importantly, how he felt about the plan. Partners (Starbucks speak for ‘employee’) from every store heard their COO express his understanding for how hard this would be and of his conviction that this was the right thing for us to do as well as the need for us to be aligned. As efforts continued for weeks, Orin gave regular updates and continued to express his thanks and his understanding that these tactics were not a walk in the park to execute. I can remember his voice and his message to this day - vulnerable, transparent, clear, imperative. Orin wasn’t punitive. He knew the partners across the organization didn’t create this gap, but he needed every one of them to help close it. And they did. The company achieved that quarter. And the next. And many more after those. One could argue it was Orin choosing not to just send an email memo that made the difference. He expressed his own concerns and fears, espoused his faith in our ability to alter our course and together, we achieved our goals. It’s a model I emulate to this day.

A Leader Who Is Vulnerable Is Rewarded With Many Allies

Those of us who have led and spent any time understanding our own styles and tendencies probably know how we respond to pressure. When in the trenches, we each have coping mechanisms, ways of processing information and filters for stress. In hierarchal organizations it is sometimes necessary that not every challenge be shared outward. But, in cases when it’s permissible to share some of the inner workings of an obstacle or deficiency, some unintended benefits can be derived.

Think about the skills on a team you’ve assembled. What are their collective talents and what specialties exist within their midst? Chances are you have some potent superpowers within your team. Additionally, some latent powers and abilities could exist which haven’t been fully explored or leveraged. When you, as a leader, share your concerns, the details of a problem or call out a challenge your group faces, you create an opportunity for the skilled people around you to join in the fight. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking ‘this is my company/business unit/market area... I have to solve this! I’m responsible!’. That is unnecessary martyrdom. While we know we bear the burden for the area we lead, we must remember we hired our teams for a reason. How incredible would it feel to share your fears and burdens with your team and lighten the load on your own shoulders? Then, why aren’t you? Often, when we lay out a problem and our feelings related to it, our teams engage their super powers and solutions we never dreamed of begin to manifest. You were right when you told yourself that you’re responsible, but being responsible for your organization doesn’t mean bearing sole burden for your challenges. If you’ve assembled the right team you should be able to bring them inside your problem and they will circle around you, fortifying your position and marching with collective might toward victory.

Are you leading a team, either as an experienced professional or a new line manager and you’ve recognized an opportunity for that team to be more open and vulnerable? Are there results-oriented aspects of your operation that would benefit from your leaders being more skilled at exhibiting emotional intelligence and authenticity to their reports? Get in touch with me and perhaps I can help. I have led individuals and teams on journeys of self discovery and helped them be more well-rounded in their pursuit of guiding their teams toward consistent results.

 

— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with businesses and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. — 

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Do You Have The Courage To Build A Truly Multifaceted Team?

Do You Have The Courage To Build A Truly Multifaceted Team?

Sports dynasties are the stuff of legends. It can be awe-inspiring to look back on truly great teams and list the talented players that made those champion seasons possible. But, do we think that the athletes on those squads were all carbon copies, cut from the same cloth? No. In fact, those teams were amalgams of many skill sets and personalities. Were these teams a harmonious mix of temperaments, easy to manage and develop? No. The same energy those squads used to win, could have torn the teams apart. Building a multifaceted team is a critical skill and a dire necessity for leaders who want to win in business. But it’s not easy to do. Finesse, discernment, psychology, a relaxed style coupled with firm direction - These are just a few of the tools and skills that the leader of such a team must use in managing these myriad skills and personalities. 

Here are few things to consider when assembling the team you want to help you win year after year. 

1. Skilled teams are made up of big personalities

If you want to build a management or leadership team that is going to ‘crush it’ for you year over year, be prepared to have some interesting dynamics. Think you’re going to have a dozen wall flowers who do everything you command and never have ire for one another? Think again. Skilled people have egos and they have ideas that they want to express. They don’t take things at face value. They are in the improvement and growth business so that means they demand the right to take things apart and make them better, precisely because they have the skill to do just that. You have to be a skilled leader to lead a skilled team. They are going to test you. They are going to challenge you. They are going to make you, and each other, better. But, you need to be ready to handle the energy, intellectual horsepower and dynamism of such a team. Want a team that has an ‘A’ game? Better bring yours too.

2. Winning teams are capable of more than you (and they) imagined

No matter the company, industry or bull market, our results aren’t constant. There are difficult periods we must manage and complex problems that must be solved. When you’ve assembled a truly world-class team, the solutions to these challenges are often right in the room, if you take the time to elicit them. One of the wonderful surprises of building a strong team, even with the aforementioned egos you must manage and high-level maintenance they require, is when the chips are down, these groups can do some pretty impressive things. Down several points on the year and you’ve got one quarter to make it up? Give your team the ball. A global crisis has hurt revenue and you need some genius ideas on which to build a recovery? Give your team the ball. Even paying top labor dollar and running at your fastest to keep up with the sprinters on this powerhouse team you’ve assembled, you will more than get your ROI when you run into situations in which you need to pull a rabbit from the proverbial hat. As long as you have the good sense to use the talents in the group.

3. Top tier teams like things direct and honest

I have never hired a highly-skilled professional for a team I have led that didn’t get a big smile on their face when I told them how difficult the job before us was. Great players see these types of situations as a chance to score and an opportunity to build legends. They relish being the source of that story that will be told years from now in the sales conference… ‘you remember the year of the factory shortfall, yeah, when the blizzard hit, and the fuel spike came, and the aliens landed and still the Central Sales team beat their annual target?! Like a boss…..’ Great leaders want those challenges. The most skilled people I have worked with aren’t afraid to hear about the bad, or the difficult or the daunting. Those situations are why they love what they do. If you interview a leader who asks how hard this will be or seems phased by the uphill climb the role entails, don’t hire them. Being honest with strong players is the most effective way to get those big brains of theirs churning on a path toward the goal. Clearly articulating a metric or a shortfall isn’t just courteous when you have ‘A’ players, it catalyzes. When you’re fortunate enough to have such a team, point to the goal line, give them a good defensive read and hand them the ball. More often than not, they will get you the win.

4. Highly-skilled teams are diverse, in every sense of the word

Much has been said of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership and particularly about the professionals he selected to surround himself with. In the often-cited book, Team Of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin brilliantly covers Lincoln’s courageous choices of seemingly opposing leaders for his cabinet. Easier choices could have been made by Lincoln, but he had the genius to know his cabinet and our country needed the talent and potency of the best people for the job - regardless of if they were going to be best friends or not. If a room full of sycophants is all a leader wants, one can simply hire just that. Sadly, though, taking such an approach means a watered-down, less effective overall squad. Poor leaders or ones who fear being challenged are the only managers who expect their direct reports to be parrots. The naked Emperor who thinks a team exists simply to nod and rubber stamp all they do or say doesn’t have much of a backbone. It takes vision and strength to hire smart people who may clash with one another as well as their boss. It is those strong wills and convictions that save a team, a company or a nation, when times get tough. Despite the current day trumpeting by some leaders who expect to never be questioned and thirst for constant tribute in the form of their underlings ‘sucking up’, the real courageous leaders know better. These leaders understand their legacy will be made rich because of their team, whose collective power is the sum of all of their efforts and talents.

5. World-class teams need you as much as you need them

How wonderful it would be if all of us who have line-managed could hire a great group of leaders and then hit the beach. True, that the measure of a really strong leader is how well their teams perform when the boss is away. But, that chief executive still holds a vital role. Sometimes you must be a filter, helping your expert leaders select which missions to take on. Other times you must be a lens, sharpening the focus of the collective talents in your midst. And, in some occasions, yes, you are a referee. As mentioned above, these incredible thoroughbreds you have chosen are all triple crown potentials. Sometimes they bite. You must be trainer, soother, facilitator and so much more. Like a General, you must also decide which challenges your elite squad will not expend energy on. Knowing how to best utilize your team’s talent and how to keep it fresh is part of your role. Selecting a high-performing group is never easy, managing them is harder still. But if you have the patience and energy to help these players join forces, you could have the makings of a dynasty on your hands, and that, is worth all of the effort.

Are you building a team or trying to assess current players to determine if you have what you need to take your company where you want it to go? I have selected world-class leaders, built talent strategies and assessed field teams in various sectors over the past 20 years. Get in touch and perhaps I can help you ensure you’re selecting the right people and building a talent roster that helps you accomplish all of your goals.

— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with business and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. — 

Photo by Kelli Dougal on Unsplash

How Do You Improve Internal Communication Before It's Too Late?

How Do You Improve Internal Communication Before It's Too Late?

Our workplaces are increasingly complex and dynamic. Improving internal communication in the workplace is one of the most foundational things a leader of a team or company should do. With many different disciplines all laboring together - engineers, clinicians, business leaders, sales persons, accountants, marketeers … there are a lot of agendas. Often our backgrounds, our chosen area of expertise or professional disciplines create frameworks for how we communicate and how we get along (or not) with others. For professionals who endeavor to work well in a matrix-managed workforce or an organization that is made up of a wide array of disciplines, the success of your company may be a case of managing different hows while working toward the same whats.

Here are 5 tips for mastering two-way communication that all of us can use.

1: Realize that everything is a negotiation

Whenever two or more people are engaged in a discussion during which a decision must be made, some form of negotiation is taking place. I want one thing, you may want another. Or, perhaps, I want the same thing you do but we have very different ideas of how to get there. So, we negotiate. The sooner you recognize that many of the conversations you have on a daily basis are of the negotiation variety, the sooner you can ask yourself some questions: ‘What do I want at the end of this meeting?’, ‘How do I feel now and how do I want to feel when we are done?’, ‘How do I want the other person to feel?’, ‘Is there a way for us to both get what we want?’. These and other questions are a great way for you to plan for that next conversation, meeting or change management discussion that you must have. Knowing that all parties will be haggling for the things they feel are more important gives you an added level of preparedness.

2: Ask more than you tell

Whether you are simply hanging out with colleagues during a team building or you’re engaged in a stressful alignment discussion about the future of your company, try to remember you aren’t the only one in the room. Give the floor to others and ask them for their feelings, input and ideas. This may seem self-evident and basic, but often we get geared up for a workforce meeting or a face to face discussion and spend so much time reviewing what we have to say, we forget to ask questions of the other party. Expressing a genuine desire for the other person to share themselves and their thoughts with you not only shows you’re not a cold, heartless ogre but you will also likely come to a deeper understanding of your colleague and that is always helpful.

3: Be aware of your own story

‘Oh, I hate this guy!’, ‘Great, I have to meet with her and she never likes my ideas…’. We are full of stories that run through our heads about those we work with. Sometimes we’ve had bad experiences with these same people. Sometimes we are operating on ‘stuff we heard’ or office ‘buzz’. The fact is, we are going to gel with some colleagues more than others. Now, to be honest, we don’t have to like everyone we work with in order for us all to be effective, but, having good relations does help. It also makes it less likely that Stan in accounting is going to take my yogurt parfait every time I leave it in the fridge just because he didn’t like my idea in the last planning session and I know he takes my food on purpose just to tick me off and then lies when I ask how he got a yogurt parfait because I know he never left the building! Er… Okay, overshare. The bottom line is the better we are at leaving preconceived notions outside the room, the better our interactions will go. Even with those you don’t care for, try playing the ‘Anakin’ game prior to an interaction. What’s the ‘Anakin’ game? Well, when I have to interact with someone, that based on previous experience, has me convinced that they have gone completely over to the dark side and become Darth Vader, I tell myself ‘there must be some Anakin Skywalker left in there somewhere… I’ll try to appeal to him.’ Sometimes that works.

4: Know if you’re a zero or one-hundred per-center

We all know (or should know) our tendencies when we frame up others. Are we trusting or are we from Missouri, the ‘show me’ state? Do we open ourselves up to everyone or prefer to wait and see if they are worthy? You likely know if you are a zero or one-hundred per-center. That is, do you start people off at 100, giving your trust and warmth to everyone and then remove points from them only as they show you the dastardly dark depths of their heart, or, do you remain emotionally distant with all you meet and force them to earn every point of trust from you in a grueling climb from being regarded as a zero to you? Knowing how you tend to measure and behave with others is part of the self-awareness you must have if you are to grow your communication and interpersonal skills. Your own biases have a role to play in how you and the other person relate, and if you don’t own your part in the building of a bond through understanding your own leanings, it can make things difficult.

5: Pre-framing how we will communicate solves a lot of problems

Finally, when we have just begun a collaboration or partnership, nothing beats a good ol’ ‘just put it out there’ conversation that establishes some ground rules. ‘Hey, colleague, how do you like to get bad news?’, ‘Do you want to be able to talk out loud when you have an idea, forming it as you go and I will just be quiet and listen or do you want me to interject and help you form thoughts?’, ‘When you step in a pile of it, how should I call you out?’, ‘What do you need from me and what can I do or change to set you up for success?’. These, and many others, are great ways to not only set up some rules of communication engagement but the mere act of you wanting to have this kind of dialogue shows you care and sends a message to those you’re with that you expect to be held accountable for your own role in the relationship.

Are you having a communications debacle? Is your workplace or firm not as cohesive as it could be and is that inhibiting the results you could be achieving? I’ve worked with teams and leaders in a wide variety of situations to help them get aligned, communicate effectively and become powerfully engaged toward the same goals. Get in touch and maybe I can help you solve your communication disconnect.

— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with business and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. — 

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

The myth of perpetual growth

The myth of perpetual growth

(Psst… There are a couple of secrets that employers and large company boards don’t want you to know…)

But, first, let’s talk about stars.

For those of us who grew up watching Carl Sagan or worthy successors such as Neil Degrasse Tyson, we learned what happens to stars over the course of their lifetime. These mighty constructs spinning around the universe, full of fusion and fission and burning for millennia, eventually reach the end of their fuel supply. That is, the matter at the heart of the star begins to be used up by the nuclear fire that has raged for millions of years and the energy which pushes the star outward can no longer withstand the incredible forces of gravity which want the star to contract. Once this process begins, after a brief death pang during which the star expands into a red giant, the stars collapse ensues and, depending on the size of the original body, it becomes a white dwarf, neutron star or black hole.

Carl, wherever you are, forgive me for truncating the process so much less poetically than you would have. I’d love to talk astronomy all day, but…

The lesson learned on an interstellar scale is, even stars don’t last or grow forever. Eventually, physics wins and something that once was, isn’t. The lifecycle of the celestial body reaches its end and the star collapses into a densely-packed fraction of what it once was.

So, what is the first secret that the leaders of your company don’t want you to know? Here it is -

Your company isn’t going to last forever.

Now, that fact may seem obvious, but stop and really ponder it for a second. Ask yourself how many meetings, strategic roadmaps and operating plan sessions you have been a part of which were aimed at sustaining an organization and keeping it evergreen. My bet is, a lot! A generation ago, before notions of employment began to change, companies actually spent a great deal of energy trying to be the stalwart, rock-solid epitomes of eternal greatness. Particularly in the U.S., the ideal of an Uncle Sam who was strong, moored by companies that would also last forever, is woven into our American dream. This dynamic has reverberations today. When it comes to large and old organizations, they are more than companies. They are organisms. And, like all organisms, the company fights to sustain itself. The organization or organism becomes superior to the people within it. Go back and review your Wilford Brimley, “You wouldn't hurt the firm, would you, Mitch?”

Now, let’s be real, most of us are in roles which exist for the purpose of directly or indirectly contributing to the growth and achievement of our companies. Companies make money and that’s fine. Commerce is good. Buying and selling, trade, our own individual ability to offer our time and skills in exchange for compensation and reward - these are all good things. But they don’t last forever. I’d like to examine two ways in which the finite condition of a firm’s lifespan can be felt by us. First, by examining how growth (and contraction) occurs in cycles.

Companies, Like All Systems, Have Cycles

Seasons, weather patterns, biology - there are systems and processes all around us. These systems have ebbs and flows that give and take and we are often flowing within them. Organizations and market sectors are no different. On an even larger scale, economies experience these peaks and valleys and we’ve attached entire industries to predicting these bulls and bears, expansions and contractions, recessions and economic booms. Turn on Bloomberg and the basis of most of the dialogue there or within any other business blog, radio station or television program is trying to understand these cycles. There is no debate that these flows exist. None. Some will claim to be better than others at explaining causality or recognizing, naming and predicting these movements, but no one argues that these patterns exist.

So why do so many companies (and stock market investors) expect their organizations to grow forever?

Let me go back to our Sagan… STARS collapse and die eventually. But we operate on the regularly accepted fallacy that a company and its financials can continue on a favorable trend line year after year and nothing can stop it. If stars don’t grow forever how can a company be any different!?

Okay, let me pause here and state for the record - yes, I know our world economy and our nation’s GFP are larger than they were a generation ago and Warren Buffet and Jim Cramer will tell all of us about the wisdom of investing, saving, compounding and so on. Yes, I get it. I’m not here to debate that we have grown wealth as a society and made more ‘stuff’ in the last two hundred years. I’m not an economist and I still believe in a free and healthy economy. What is more applicable to me are the micro-cycles with the cycles. I want to zoom in a bit to the life of a leader who must grow year over year or achieve targets over a period of a decade. Let’s face it, Wall Street is looking quarter to quarter. Most of us are not measured on a lifetime of work, we are only as good as our last P&L. So, we should try to understand how to avoid becoming a collapsed star. Well, in order to prevent our own collapse, we need to understand the cycle which firms remain engaged in today that continues to prop up the myth of perpetual growth, much to the detriment of all involved. And, that, takes us to the second secret we aren’t supposed to talk about…

The Three Year Corporate Shuffle

I’m about to cut a bit close to the bone, so if you don’t like it real, best to go watch some YouTube cat vids now….

Companies of all kinds, especially in publicly-traded firms, participate and are complicit in a shell game that I refer to as the Three Year Corporate Shuffle. By shuffle, I mean dance, not mixing up a deck of cards, although that may be an applicable analogy too.

Here’s what I mean:

Year 1: Wine and roses, baby! We are doing great! We’re hitting targets, our operation is humming along, we’re crushing our goals and everyone is enjoying bonuses, healthy stock options and the promotions are being handed out like tic-tacs at a kissing contest. ‘Year 1’ can be several consecutive years of this sort of growth and favorable business performance. It can last for 10 years. What’s important is the ‘Year 1’ we are examining is year ‘Mark 1’. The year before the star starts to… contract.

Year 2: We miss our goals. Depending on what sort of company you’re in, the first time this happens, everyone just sort of looks around like we’ve just been in a car accident. We didn’t think it could happen to us. ‘We’ve grown by double digits since 1990!’, ‘But, we’re the ‘it’ brand!’. A company with the Midas touch has a really rough time the first year it misses. Even for companies without such enviable track records, if results have been good, often a bad year results in the same sorts of internal discussions and reactions.

Because, here’s the deal - the senior team has to do something.

We can’t just miss our growth targets and do nothing to address it. Because people in C-suites are paid to make decisions and do things, lots of discussion will take place about what went wrong. Often, this is good, because let’s face it, companies like other organisms, can improve and learn. They can adapt. But things start to go off the rails in some situations when companies - remember the firm is its own organism by now - begin to think with a hive mind. The company starts to see elements and people within it as viruses that must be addressed and removed. ‘Our goals couldn't have been too aggressive, we missed because of that SVP of sales and his faulty growth plan.’ ‘The company couldn't have grown lazy after years of sky-high stock growth, we failed because of the HR team and their leader, she should have seen this coming.’

But the worst examples of the year 2 blame game are when fingers get pointed downward. Units or field personnel get smeared, blamed and generally lambasted for lackluster growth or a missed comp percentage. Now, when correction is deserved - say, the field teams lose their customer focus or the unit leaders began to trail their competitors in their delivery of value to their customer - hey, they should be held responsible for improvement and coached or managed to a higher level of performance. But, often at enterprise level, on the interstellar scale when the star itself is shrinking and threatening to go into black hole or neutron start mode, it’s simply not right to say line level employees or middle managers are to blame. Yet, it happens. And then…

Year 3: The correction year. A C-level leader or mid-senior level leader promises action will be taken. This is what the board wants. It’s what Wall Street wants. The ship must be righted. We missed our comp store growth by 3 points last year and our shareholders demand return. So, reorganizations happen. Leaders lose their jobs. Geographic territories are rewritten. A whole slew of command and control measures are rolled out. Year 3 is no fun. Sometimes ‘year 3’ actually lasts 2 years, or more. The entire culture of the company can change. It’s incredible how the DNA of the organism mutates when that first miss happens. And, sometimes not for the better.

And the year after Year 3 is over? Often, comp growth is positive. Or, we are opening new locations again. Or, our market share has risen after the previous year’s decline. Action has been taken, confidence is restored. And the stock price? It rises.

But what was accomplished? Think about what the comparable growth numbers in the most recent year were measured against. The trough. The down year. So, did we really ‘fix’ anything? By reporting to the street a favorable comp percentage which was compared to a down year, we’ve just executed slight of hand. How often do you hear a same store sales figure on the business broadcast which is followed up by the revenue numbers that come along with it? Percentages lie. A clever business leader can make percentages tell any story they choose. In turnaround situations, sometimes real improvement was required and is acted upon. But, often, the reality is we just did the dance. And a lot of pain and suffering happened as a result.

So, what is to be learned and what can we do to protect against the perpetual growth myth ruining our organizations or our livelihoods?

If You Work For A Company, Know Your Worth

If the trends mentioned above are to continue, the worker of tomorrow is likely to move around a lot over the course of their career. For all sorts of reasons: balance of work and home; career growth aspirations; financial needs or the desire to experience personal growth and development. Tomorrow’s professional will be hard to keep. Period.

DO: Value your own contribution to the companies by which you are employed, and, it’s imperative that you tell that story (at the right place and time) because no one else will. You have to be your own marketeer and agent and prepare yourself for a life reinvention and exploration. This may sound like fun but it is a different mind set than graduating from a good school and going to work for the same company for 35 years.

The future for the worker also includes a commitment to educating yourself and mastering awareness which is outward as well as inward. Your external view should remain focused on industries and macro trends in our world which may represent sectors in which you can contribute. In today’s faster-than-Moore’s-law growth rate, entire industries will exist each decade that were not around during the last ten years. Remain agile in your mindset in terms of what you are and who are you are. Your degree is in mechanical engineering? Great. Fifteen years from now you may be the owner of that pastry business you’ve always dreamed of, and that’s as it should be.

DON’T: Remain attached to the mental and emotional models you had ten, five or even one year ago. Your inward view is all about knowing yourself. The right companies will be seeking more self-aware professionals in our future and emotional intelligence matters. You need to be in touch with your strengths, opportunities, needs and tendencies so that you can manage your own evolution and growth.

If You Lead A Company, Try To Remember That Business Is A Not Zero Sum Game

If you’re a CEO, a CFO or board member, you have an incredibly important role to play for the success of your company. Yes, it is vital that your company returns value to its investors. Yes, the ability of your firm to grow creates benefit for those employed by the company and the customers you serve. There are so many ways that a free market society generates positive ripples in the ocean in which we all swim. But, stories of company cultures that permitted or even encouraged a ‘growth at all costs’ mindset abound. Situations like the one which preempted the recent sub-prime mortgage debacle come from that toxic mindset that allows workers to be regarded as less important than the overall organization. 

C-suite executives, ask yourself how you can achieve growth and do the right thing even when it’s hard. This may seem like a pollyanna notion, but as more trillion-dollar companies seek to remember the ideals they had when they were billion, million and thousand-dollar companies, we are seeing business lead in ways government often fails. This is the power to do good by doing well and we have to try to make this the norm. The Orwellian doublespeak in which companies have engaged in the past, should be called out for what it is - the attempts of a shrinking star to ignore its impending collapse. If leaders evolve and help those companies evolve along with them, maybe we will have more bright, healthy stars in our future night skies.

— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with business and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. — 

Photo by Bryan Goff on Unsplash