Maddy was incredibly excited to get to work. She was thrilled to have been asked to think about some ideas on how the culture of the business could be improved by the company directors. She’d work in the business for some time now and hadn’t been personally asked to contribute like this before. Maddy had spent the last week thinking up some ideas, reflecting on her previous workplaces and asking others who were close to her how the culture could be improved. She was researched, ready and confident for her meeting with the directors and had even had a little practice run with her partner the night before.
After bouncing into the room, Maddy highlighted what she thought could be leveraged, some things that may be holding the culture back and some new initiatives that could be injected to create an even better workplace.
Maddy’s ideas were met with responses from the Directors such as ‘great idea but….’, ‘I’m not sure that would work here….’, ‘We have tried that before’. Needless to say she left the room after being thanked for her ideas feeling very confused and deflated. She wondered why they had bothered even asking for her input and felt it was a very empty attempt at asking for feedback.
There’s one thing that saddens me most in business and it’s stories like these. When people are asked for ideas, or who voluntarily offer ideas, and are then shut down, silenced and made to feel worthless. Granted, this is often unintentional, however the impact is still the same.
Patty Ford is chief talent officer at Netfix and author of ‘Powerful’. She says ‘People have power; don’t take it away from them.’ Maddy had enormous power before she walked into that office to deliver her ideas to her leaders (term used loosely) but her power was stripped away very quickly by being shut down and disrespected.
There is one thing I learnt when I took on a poor performing business, a sinking ship, in both results and culture – I wasn’t going to salvage it alone. I had to achieve this turnaround through my people. It wasn’t going to happen any other way. This is quite a vulnerable place to be as a leader because it’s the realization that regardless of your level of authority and the fact you are fully responsible, you have no power. You may think you do, however you really don’t. Your team does. So it’s a question of how do you engage, motivate and inspire them to work for you when the team would be quite happy for the captain of the ship to sink with it whilst they are running for the life rafts?
This is even more relevant in our current environment where we have four generations in business and we need a nimble and dynamic workplace to be successful.
What could Maddy’s leaders have done differently to achieve a much better outcome for Maddy, the business and their own leadership?
- Be humble and open to learning
- Listen with open ears and a curious mind
- Ask good questions
- Be grateful
If you are to lead with relevance and influence these four relatively easy steps are a must to implement. To continue to ‘shut down’ ideas and disempower people is to suffocate innovation, demand conformity and simply holding your organisation back. Leaders need to have self-awareness about this to be successful 21st century leaders. And leaders need to understand the people are the power in their business, no question.