A Higher Calling

Employees are looking for more … not pay, not flexibility, but rather more from their leadership.

Our 100-year legacy about how to do the Job at the Top, which business schools, literature and our predecessors have metamorphosed into near-laws of nature, is beginning to unravel. In fact, the very term we use to describe the role of the position at the top … “in charge” … is receding in the most effective organizations. Emblematic of an entirely different way of thinking about what it means to be in the Job at the Top. And do it well.

Driven by what? By a revolution of expectations, particularly in the minds of people under 40, about their own self-worth and about the role they see for work in their lives. Which are diminishing the wallop of the historical “big stick” at the top … the offering and taking away of jobs … as the “big wampum” on the other side of the employment equation. Leading to a not-widely-understood result. Today, our discretion over jobs, if not exercised from the top with extreme care, is becoming more of an anticatalyst to organizational commitment, zeal and passion than an accelerant! More of a landmine than a gold mine.

Why? Because people today are looking for more. Not necessarily more pay. Nor more flexibility in work. Nor even more opportunity for advancement, but rather … more from us.

These days the gap between the lives people seek to live at work, and the ones they aspire to build when they are away from work, is narrowing. Increasingly, they’re looking for us to provide places that help them feel as good about themselves as they possibly can feel. And that holds the promise of being responsive to the changes in their needs as they move forward … rather than the reverse.

For example, how much success do you think you would have these days telling an employee she needs to move her family across the country to an unknown and dramatically less appealing location … because the company needs her to do it? It used to be reasonable to expect that. No more!

This illustrates the repositioning of work as a means to another end. Work is now an end in itself. That has to synchronize into everything else that a person needs to feel great about themselves … and, therefore, feel great about working for you. Indistinguishably woven into, not compartmentalized off in, the compilation of a healthy persona.

So, if the prerogative to hire and fire has lost its punch, what is the new “Wampum” at the Top? That inspires passion for work, for your company and for what you at the top need to get done? In other words, what do we need to provide to build truly remarkable and exceptional businesses? That endure. And that contribute magnificently to equally remarkable and exceptional lives of the people who choose to spend their time with us?

The answer is at the same time both conceptually simple to understand, and also hard for lots of us to bring into play in our businesses.

Simple, because it just makes sense and doesn’t need analytics to justify the validity of its logic. But hard, real hard, in terms of how we need to recalibrate our own consciousness as the highest authorities in our organizations to deliver it.

I call it a shift from “outside-in” to “inside-out” consciousness. Because it redirects the central focus of our intentions. From abstract, external concepts about our businesses, like growth, market share and profitability. Which we decide how to use people to attain. To a higher concept of fulfilling those same peoples’ aspirations to be as good as they can possibly be in all aspects of their lives … with the success of your business as the result.

Sure, you’ll still have to deliver according to all the metrics that the rest of your constituents – bankers, investors, suppliers – still demand. But how you get there is different. Borrowing a metaphor from billiards, a “bank shot” approach rather than a direct strike at the object ball. Which requires a lot more skill. And a lot more confidence that the consequential results of your initial focus will sink the shot.

So, my advice. Become a billiards expert. Practice focusing on what your employees need to feel best about themselves in working for you. Give them that. Then let them know which pocket you’re shooting for. And watch it happen.