Thoughts from Guy

Companies: Inspire Your Leaders’ Commitment

Leadership makes all the difference in the performance of organizations and the lives of people. In my inaugural POV, I discussed how the most effective leaders commit to a cause greater than their own self-interest and focus on ensuring others’ success. I offered this opinion from Jim Collins, author of Good To Great:

“The more I look at things, the more I come to the conclusion that . . . if your ambition as a leader is really about you, it’s about the success you have, it’s about the attention you get during your time, it’s about the wealth you accumulate, that is more likely to lead to the absence of the disciplined decisions that would produce great results’”
– Appearance on “Charlie Rose,” August 19, 2009

If great leadership requires commitment to things beyond self-interest, this poses an essential question: how can companies inspire leaders to focus on the well-being of others and the success of the organization as a whole?

The question is often answered in aphorisms like “be the employer of choice,” “unleash talent,” or “provide opportunities to grow.” While these aphorisms about corporate culture are directionally correct, I think more powerful answers are found in the psychology of people at work.

From my consulting and coaching work across a wide variety of organizations, I see four ways to inspire leaders’ commitment to others and to the organization, each one based in people’s fundamental needs at work. Leaders are both the actor and audience in this drama. They create the work environment for others, and also for themselves, particularly when they sit in the C-suite:

Create An Atmosphere of Mutual Regard: When you ask people what they value most in their work, the vast majority will respond, “The people I work with.” Leaders need to think well of their colleagues and believe their colleagues think well of them. Colleagues need to trust each other’s competence and character, and feel some amount of interpersonal chemistry. Within this atmosphere of mutual regard, leaders are much more likely to invest in others’ success and well-being.

Mutual regard does not require relationships to be free of conflict. In fact, healthy conflict is a key to executive effectiveness. The organization must hire executives and build teams in a way that strengthens relationships and stimulates constructive disagreement.

Enable Impact: People want to feel effective in their work. For leaders, effectiveness equates to impact. Leaders want to influence decisions and drive results, and they need to feel that their work environment allows this. The organization’s responsibility is to enable impact. This can be done by providing clear direction, including leaders in key decisions and empowering leaders to take action. The sense of impact is reinforced via metrics, feedback and recognition for achievement. The more the organization is seen as a place one can be effective, the higher the level of dedication and commitment to the whole.

Reinforce What Is Valued: People need to feel their work is important. For leaders, this sense of importance is often found in the pursuit of specific goals (what we must accomplish) and the fulfillment of mission, values and vision (why are we here, who we want to be and where are we going). Involving leaders in the creation and execution of mission, vision, values and strategies, and the continual communication and reinforcement of these elements, can inspire leaders to commit to people and purposes beyond their own self-interest.

Organization values can play a key role here. If leaders perceive a strong connection between their personal values and the values of the organization, this can inspire additional commitment to the organization’s well-being.

Compensate Fairly and Inclusively: Executives are far more likely to commit to an organization when they feel the economic relationship is fair. This is a complex factor, but essentially leaders need to feel their compensation represents fair return for their contribution to the organization. Commitment to the well-being of the whole can be strengthened by connecting overall success with personal rewards via profit sharing, stock options, ownership positions, and bonuses contingent on collective success.

An organization can take steps to engage its leaders’ passion and focus leaders’ attention beyond their self-interests. To begin, create an environment of mutual regard and empower leaders for impact. Involve leaders in the creation and fulfillment of mission, vision, values and strategy. Finally, compensate leaders in a manner that is perceived as fair and is aligned with the success of the organization.

These steps will create the type of leadership that produces great results.

© 2014 by Guy Cornelius