What makes a good life? What makes us happy? Most people respond “money and fame” and most also believe that the path to get there is hard work and, especially for younger generations, visibility on social media. Correct? The longest study ever conducted on happiness started at Harvard in 1938 and is still ongoing. This study selected 724 men (some of them are still alive) and at regular intervals over many decades, measured their degree of health and happiness. Some of these people had an amazing life, while some ended up with serious addictions and personal problems. What made these people healthy and happy? Fame? Money? Quite simply the answer is good relationships with other people, starting from their spouses and families. It is about knowing that other people will be there for you when you need them. It is about connections, real connections with real people, not the number of followers or “likes” on social media.
So what has happened since the beginning of pandemic? We had to eliminate most connections; we could not visit our families. And even when we can finally meet we are not supposed to hug or have any physical contact. Wait: I am not done yet. On top of this dis-connection of frozen relationships, we started to get deeply worried about our jobs. As executive coach I have witnessed that while some people are overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of work without any boundaries, “days full of zooms,” others are terrified about losing their job as their companies and sectors are struggling to survive. It is difficult to say which situation is worse. Last, as citizens we are deeply concerned: if Adam Smith were alive today I bet that he would title his book, “The Health of Nations” rather than the “Wealth of Nations.” In fact, measuring citizens’ health appears to be a more relevant indicator than mere GDP per person. A recent study from HBR revealed that according to a new survey of nearly 1,500 people from 46 countries, the vast majority – 85% of us – are struggling with general and workplace wellbeing as the pandemic continues to rage. Interestingly, HBR has created a special section called “The Burnout Crisis.” Another study, conducted by Gallup,  shows us that in terms of staff morale we are now at the same (low) level where we were in the middle of the financial crisis back in 2009.
Planet: we have a problem.
In this article we propose a meaningful path: it is not about displaying heroic behaviours because “work ‘til you drop” is not the solution. Rather we suggest three correlated measures that will alleviate this crisis. It is about:
- Self care
- Serving others: your role as Leader
- Institutional legacy
All change is personal.
When we write for, present to, or coach leaders about the challenges of the current world, we want to help them make a difference for themselves, others, and their organization. But the first question they inevitably ask (privately, if not publicly) is, “What do these changes mean for me?”
- How will the pernicious and devasting global pandemic affect my loved ones and me?
- How can I positively respond to the social injustice that seems so pervasive?
- How do I upskill myself to deal with the digital 4.0 world?
- How can I reinvent myself to avoid the economic crisis faced by so many?
- How can I navigate the political morass where people posit positions instead of solving problems?
- What can I do to have the emotional reserves to cope with the incredible demands I (and others) face?
While good leaders work to help others become better; great leaders answer the above questions for themselves so that their strengths can strengthen others; so they can use their power to empower others.
Ghandi is attributed with the words, “Be the change,” which is wise counsel. What he actually said is even more profound:
We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do. Mahatma Ghandi
His life is an example of personal change in himself that led to a profound change throughout India, and ultimately the world.
In the present 2020/21 crises, unprecedented in our life time (global pandemic, political quagmire, social injustice, digital 4.0, economic uncertainty, emotional malaise), many others and we have advised leaders to change. Paolo has recommended mastering the 5 C’s (chaos, crisis, complexity, confusion, change). Dave has advocated for leaders to become empathic meaning makers through personalization, harnessing uncertainty, and offering guidance.
While we realize the benefit of these recommendations, we also recognize that these desired public behaviour changes require personal reflection and mindset changes. We call this self-care.
When leaders take care of themselves, they can take better care of others.
When leaders have a positive relationship with (image of) themselves, they can form more positive relationships with others.
How do leaders care for themselves, so that they can care for others?
First, be clear about what you want. Knowing what you (personally) want defines success for you. If you don’t define what you want, someone else will do it for you, and it will not likely be in your best interest. Define what you want (and what success looks like for you) by exploring your values, passions, strengths, and resources. What you want may change over time and circumstances, but the challenge of defining what you want remains the same.
Second, create resources to enable yourself to move forward toward what you want most. These resources may be physical (caring for your body and personal space), intellectual (being willing to learn and grow), social (surrounding yourself with great relationships as noted above), emotional (facing and manage your anxieties, doubts, and fears), and spiritual (finding meaning in your life). These resources may come from within, from your relationships with others, and from your organizational setting.
Third, focus forward and be agile as you move ahead. Instead of looking back at what did not work, focus forward on what you want and the path(s) to get there. When things work, stick with it. When they don’t (and the won’t at times!), reflect, learn, and adjust, but keep moving forward.
2. Serving others: your role as a Leader
We have discovered that leadership is NOT about what you know and do, but how what you know and do helps others know and do their work better. In other words, build on your strengths to strengthen others; use your power to empower others.
Sometimes brilliant leaders lack interpersonal savvy. They are lollipop leaders who have a great brain, but no heart. They have not recognized that learning to work with others is a foundation for both personal happiness and professional success. Research has shown that people who care about people are 60% more likely to be promoted. Economist Arthur Brooks also found that those who gave more and served more made more money not less. Those who gave to charity are 43% happier than those who do not give. Volunteering and helping others gives you emotional, physical, and economic well being.
Your self-care should pivot to other care when your job as a leader is to help others become better. As a leader, think about who you can help. Helping others requires appreciating each person you lead at a more personal level.
- Share emotion by asking how they feel;
- Show empathy by appreciating their circumstances;
- Shape experience by helping them believe, become, and belong, and
- Stimulate their energy by helping them meet their goals.
Empathy: since “Emotional Intelligence” published in 1995 by Daniel Goleman we have been reading and listening about empathy. While we have by now understood the term, we also need to internalize the 3 components of empathy. 1) Cognitively: empathy is to fully understand what the other person feels. 2) Emotionally: feeling what the other person feels or at least demonstrate and acknowledge his/her suffering and prevalent feeling. Most of the people got this. The third part is where we get stuck. We also need 3) to move to action, to do something about it, otherwise we end up confirming the “crocodile tears” proverb.
One of us coached a brilliant leader who received kudos from all of his colleagues who praised him for his intellect, boldness, and insight. But, when we gave him his complete feedback, one comment they also made was that he did not listen very well, which he quickly cut me off with, “yes I do!” We pointed out to him that he was not listening to us at that moment. Then, knowing his strengths, we probed, “What does listening mean to you?” He said that when he interacted with someone, he could generally figure out 20 to 30% of the way into the conversation where they were going. And, he was right. He knew the person, the context, and the message. So, once he figured out what they were going to say, his mind wandered … looking at texts, glancing around, and waiting for them to finish. Our comment to him is a simple principle of helping others: listening is not that you understand; it is that others feel understood by you. He said, say that again, and we did: listening is not that you understand, but that others feel understood by you. He realized he was not communicating understanding. So as you help others, learn to listen by helping them feel understood.
Leaders learn to hear by understanding more than talking, by helping others more than yourself, and by serving more than taking.
A second coaching tip on helping others is to have a positive personal agenda for those you lead as a leader you will meet with lots of people e.g. subordinates, peers, bosses, customers, and so forth. Ask yourself: What percent of time do people leave their interaction with me feeling better about themselves? A leader we coached had been successful by setting direction and making things happen. But she realized that people generally left her discussions with lots of to do lists, but without a sense of emotion about why the work mattered. As a lollipop leader, she had a big brain but a small heart. With this insight, she consciously began to take some time to make sure that each person she interacted with felt better about themselves after their interaction. Sometimes this was easy when giving praise, opportunities, or bonus money. At other times when she had to share bad news or reprimand someone, she had to learn to help others not scold them.
3. Institutional legacy: create an organization culture that outlives you
Self-care makes sure you have personal ability to lead; other services means that you lead by making others better. Institutionalizing legacy means that you create an organization that outlives you and even the relationships you have built.
Organizations exist to leverage individual talent through collective actions. The whole is greater than the parts. United states is stronger than isolated states. Teams outperform individuals.
Our research has consistently found (and others confirm) that organizational capabilities have 3 to 5 times the impact on business results than individual competencies. Individuals can be champions, but organizations with championships.
As a leader, you need to build an organization that outlives your personal efforts and turns individual intent into sustainable collective actions. Organizations don’t think, but they shape how others think. Constantly build the right culture for your organization; if built right, your organization’s culture will outlast you.
To create institutional legacy, recognize that organizations are less about their structures and more about their capabilities. An organization’s capability is what the organization is known for and good at doing, like having a strategic agenda, managing information, serving customers, showing innovation, building collaboration, being efficient, moving with agility, or shaping the right culture.
Institutionalizing the right organizational capabilities often comes from making HR decisions:
- People: Hire, train, and promote people who share the values and purpose and turn those aspirations into daily actions.
- Performance: Build reward systems with standards and incentives that drive the right behaviors and outcomes.
- Information: Improve communications and share information from top to bottom, bottom up, inside out, and outside in that signals what matters most.
- Work: Establish organizational policies (work hours, work location, work roles) that match desired goals.
These HR practices will likely turn your aspirations into institutional practices that shape thinking, action, and feeling.
The capabilities or culture you create will not only make your organization a great place to work, but a great place for customers to receive products and services they value, a great place for investors to invest, and a great place for communities to be drawn to.
Indeed, we need to consider the Health of Nations, organizations, communities, and people as the main foundation of their real wealth. Self-care, care of others, and institutional care are a moral imperative and the starting point of every Leader. It is also the starting point of business excellence. People can give their best only when they are at their best, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually and when there is a meaningful purpose to conquer, not only a financial result to achieve.
To make it through these perilous times and to discover opportunity beyond the present crises, take care of you, serve others, and institutionalize capabilities.
If you are positive to others, they in turn will likely create an affirming organization culture.
If you share credit in successes and involve others in decisions, you create a team-based, abundant organization.
If you focus on ideas more than politics and learn from mistakes, you create a learning organization.
If you are available to take on tough assignments, you can create an agile and risk-taking organization.
When you bring your personal values to this organization, it becomes a culture where people thrive.
Planet, we have a solution.