The Wrong Fossil Fuel!

I ran into  a senior leader in New York just before heading off to Dubai en route to Singapore where I am today as I write this.

She explained that her boss told her to tell the employees in her division that they’d all have to work seven days a week if they wanted to keep their jobs, and no matter what transpired or was achieved, there would no bonus whatsoever. This was communicated with that belligerent sense of almost victimized trauma today common in leaders of companies who have spent years racking up record profits and seem to have devolved into Jello upon having to weather a Grade A crisis and actually lead rather than just coasting.

This leader replied, “No problem, I’ll communicate that. And as they probably don’t have a lot of job options, they’ll probably comply. But presumably you’re ready, and so are we as a company, for the sharp drop in productivity that will follow?”  A total, glum, resentful silence followed.

Leaving this Shakespearean scene there, we can see that this woman leader hit the nail on the head. Sure we can deprive people of everything, and with a shrinking job market, hold them hostage to every overwrought whim we can summon.  And certainly panic can temporarily impel action…for awhile. We can terrify people into acquiescence, but certainly not into commitment or productivity, much less passion.

Fear and exhaustion are the wrong fossil fuels for performance. And arguably a downturn in which everyone has to create more with less, leverage all the company’s value drivers, optimize client relationships, find new ways of growing, ensure time is spent on the highest return activities, needs the discretionary energy and efforts of our best people, at all levels. How are we going to get it? Not by tormenting them and gloating over our dictatorial ability to convert workplaces into Gulags.

No, we’ll do it the way you get a measure of sacrifice and dedication at any time. By enrolling them for some larger end game — some stretch targets we can shoot for, some purpose to hang in there for, some vision to get behind. We’ll do it by throwing down a gauntlet that’s meaningful and which people want to respond to. We’ll do it by creating a greater sense of community (which crisis engenders naturally if we are focused towards a common goal), by leading from the front, by celebrating all progress and quick wins, and by finding imaginative ways of saying ‘thank you’ — some financial, some otherwise. Today, even a judicious little bit, will go a long way.

Leaders enroll leadership energies — a sense of purpose, mutual engagement, aligned commitment, a passion to achieve. And companies that get that from their people and teams, should reward them… however they can. That’s the fossil fuel smart companies, winning companies, will drill for and deploy!

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2 Comments

  1. Suki
    Posted February 19, 2009 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more. I work for a small ed tech company and I thought 2009 would be quite bleak (half of the employees had to be let go the previous fall). And yet our CEO instead of asking us to work longer and harder, cut us some slack, gave everyone extra time off to spend with their families, and started the year off with a kick off meeting, where he outlined a project that would open up our content to thousands of children all over the world for free. It was a radical and exciting idea and at the end a colleague turned to me and whispered “I’m excited!”

    Now, that’s leadership!

  2. Posted November 27, 2013 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Today, I went to the beach front with my kids.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and screamed.
    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear. She never wants
    to go back! LoL I know this is completely off
    topic but I had to tell someone!

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