One of the leaders I most respect in my time working in Corporate America is a leader who actually added the value of “fun” to the core value list. Pretty strange many may think. But it worked. The interesting, and very wise, thing about this is the method of addition. The value “fun” was only added when the timing was right. When the people had voted. When the culture could support. It was after some sweat and tears to rebuild a terribly broken culture within the organization. And it was only when the team felt it appropriate to add such a value in, and to bring it to life. This company soared to multi, multi billion dollar status and last I heard they continue to gobble up new territory around the globe. People are having fun winning I guess.
On the flip side, I have also seen companies that operate by the Emperor Has No Clothes Principle. By this I mean that well meaning but sadly deceived leaders conjure up a list of values that are noble in nature at least on a piece of paper. They then deploy them to the masses and expect this to create a culture glue that transforms all that is ugly and creates an army of inspired followers. Unfortunately, the Emperor Has No Clothes. The Emperor here is the organizational culture. If a culture is not ready, or is not aligned, with said noble values they won’t stick. They culture doctor has not treated the patient because the leaders have not created an engaged environment where people want to perform. This leads to a culture that outwardly has “yes men” at the top, but then a sub culture laced with subversiveness and passive aggressiveness.
Now the world is never black and white. We live in shades of gray. Some days I may be a leader who seeks inputs and engagement to ensure a plan goes right. Some days I may fall short and in weakness resort to control and force, the Emperor Has No Clothes methodology. We are humans, and we fall short. But if at a deep level we can at least make a conscious decision to not sell out to workplace politics, and we are all in when it comes to employee engagement, we’ll in time have more positive than negative. I hope that more leaders come to respect the value of humility and engagement. I committed to a leader this past year to speak truth in love. That was a dangerous commitment I know, because truth is not always popular. But in the end it’s the best way to live.
So my philosophy has come to be this. Don’t put lipstick on pig. Live in truth. If a culture is broken, name it, own it and humbly rebuild it. There is no more powerful impact you can have than to be a leader who leads with truth at all cost, and care for others. The aforementioned leader I mention was not a man who led with pride first. He shared his personal failures with us as employees, to students in lecture halls, and in articles he was quoted in for many publications. He praised the work of the team around him that made his company the company it was. He asked them to create and own a value system that drove results and he created a company about the people and not himself. He told me once when I raised my hand to ask at a team gathering, that it took late nights and literally many evenings with tears shed and tons of heartache to build the company he did. I aspire to bring what I learned from him everywhere I go. Even if I tear up in meetings like he did. Real is OK because then the clothes, even if they aren’t the most fashionable, are at least real.