9 Fun Things To Do In Developing
For 15 years I lived in a monastic community as a Catholic priest. I now devote most of my time to Corporate America working on executive development, change management and organizational healing. Actually, the jobs have proven to be quite similar - except the pay is a lot better now.
Employee surveys increasingly confront executives with three major issues: nobody trusts; employees don't believe in senior management; and workers are too stressed out to care. Problems with trust, belief and caring. In my monastic days, we referred to this quandary as a crisis of Faith, Hope and Charity. I believe the problems confronting leaders today are more spiritual than fiscal.
It strikes me as a bit unfair to expect engineers and accountants to be masters of the spiritual domain. So here are nine fun ways to get you started.
1 - Become a better communicator by keeping your mouth shut.
Communication improves when you learn to be quiet and listen. This is no small task in a dominant business culture that says the ones that speak the most (and the loudest) win. The more effective leaders are the ones who can let go of their need to defend, explain and justify - and simply be present to the pain and imperfection in the company. It's only after employees have said all they wanted to say (or "emptied" themselves) that they become open to hear anything that you have to offer. I find it downright saintly to find a leader who has some comfort level with silence.
2 - Eat lunch in the cafeteria.
You can find out more about what's going on in your company by noshing with staff than by reissuing the Employee Survey. Just grab some cafeteria delicacy, plop yourself down at a table of co-workers, introduce yourself and say: "So, how's things going?" Resist the executive temptation to correct, solve, judge and reinterpret. Employees feel affirmed when you ask for their opinion and actually make room for a response. While you will hear some plain old moaning, you will also hear about practices that are frustrating employees and hindering operational performance. In a short time, perhaps just by making a few calls, you'll be well on the road to eliminating some unproductive behaviors ... as well as improving employee trust and hope - two spiritual qualities that directly hit the bottom line.
3 - Send hand written cards.
Sit down and actually hand write a note to someone. Real pen; real paper - no E-mails. It's seldom done - and it's powerful. Spend the first 15 minutes of your day writing personal notes to people who are doing the right things. Saying thanks has become a lost art in the frenetic world of 24/7. It's a morale booster that costs pennies. You are not only responsible for the quantitative side of the business. You're also responsible for the qualitative piece. You're accountable for the "heart" of the company - its maintenance and healing. Valentine's Day has now become your domain. Use it by sending lots of Valentine cards; sign them "from someone who notices your good efforts."
4 - Say a Prayer.
The work of a leader is spiritual: building trust; inspiring staff; fostering creativity. You'd be foolish not to ask for all the help you can get - and prayer is a good way to start. Prayer can also improve that much needed executive skill: humility. It's often only after you've arrived in a leadership position that you realize that you're really not "in charge" of much. Success, both personal and corporate, is largely dependent on people and things outside your control. Humility is merely the willingness to recognize it. Prayer also gives you a chance to apologize. It helps to say, "I'm sorry" to the Gods for things you, your employees and company have done wrong in the quest to succeed. Who knows, maybe the reason the company's in a slump is because nobody's apologized to the Divine? As a leader, it's now part of your job.
5 - Meet with coworkers in their cubicles.
While you may be more comfortable having staff meet in your office, it's more valuable to leave and meet them where they are located. Leadership is not about your comfort, but that of employees. The rarefied air of the executive suite can become toxic. I also think of it as giving a sort of "home court advantage." An insightful leader meets people where they work, accepts them for their unique gifts. Also, the symbolic value of seeing you mingling with the troops improves trust. General Patton used this effectively and won many a battle by the loyalty his troops had for him.
6 - Spend quiet time with yourself.
A leader's value is determined both by whom she is as well as what she does. Spending time doing nothing increases your awareness and creativity. You become better able to respond rather than react. Being still, even for a few minutes each day, provides the foundation for becoming less operational and more strategic. You see the bigger issues, the underlying conflict, the creative approach that will take the organization to the next level. The Gods bestow the gift of wisdom, not in the maelstrom of activity, but in the silence within.
7 - Visit art museums.
Leadership is not only a science. It's also an art. What better way to develop this aspect than by spending time with the "masters?" Tell your staff that you'll be gone for the day. Remind them that they're in charge. Then take off and walk the corridors of your local museum. Even if you never took an art appreciation class, you can still amble among these solemn halls and ask yourself fun questions like: How can my organization be more creative? What can I do to reward more risk taking? What are some unmet needs that might expand the business? And, my favorite question, what would I do if I knew I wouldn't fail?
8- Increase tolerance for opinions that drive you wacky.
The future never arrives as you expect. Breakthroughs show up as irritating distractions to your defined business goals. Leaders with vision seek out discordant voices and surround themselves with people who challenge basic assumptions and traditional ways. Experiment with expanding your sense of humor so that you can play with those who see the world differently. Being able to question commonly accepted business practices and living with the ambiguity that this produces is the fertile ground for divine revelation.
9 - Work on the impossible.
One of the things I learned in the monastery was: just because something is impossible, doesn't mean you don't have to work on it. (Why else would I have been required to take the vow of celibacy?) Some of what a leader is required to work on will not be accomplished in his lifetime. That's what vision, brilliance and legacy are about. To those overwhelmed by this task, I give you the words of my old religious superior: if you think you're too small to be effective, then you've never been in bed with a mosquito. It is your task to explore and initiate impossible efforts that will serve the next generation. You have an executive responsibility to take politically incorrect stands in service of the long term corporate common good. Practicality and common sense be damned when it's clear what implausible work needs to be accomplished. The poet Theodore Roethke said it well: "What we need is more people who specialize in the impossible."
Worried that this will negatively impact your career? Don't. Since the work is "impossible" everybody will have very low expectations - so even making a little progress makes you look like a star. Likewise, because most of your peers will run headlong away from this challenge, you'll have little competition ... and the Gods just may come to your assistance giving you great surprise and success.
Finally, mixing God and mammon makes good business sense. Employees have many God given talents that they want to contribute, if someone would just lead the way. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval saint, once said: "Without work, it is impossible to have fun." The world of business is undergoing a radical transformation that is inviting the spiritual assets of the workforce into the hallowed halls of commerce.
Now go and do what any self-respecting leader should! Put yourself out in front of this transformation ... and take credit for starting it all. And be sure to have some fun while you're leading the charge.
P.S. If you're thinking about writing me, give in to the temptation. I love getting mail ... and being influenced by what you have to say. Please E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kenny Moore is a former monk and present day businessman, improvising his way through the daily work-a-day grind. He's Corporate Ombudsman and Human Resources Director at KeySpan in NYC. Kenny has survived "incurable" cancer and open heart surgery — largely due to luck and Divine playfulness. Having dealt with both God and death, he now finds himself eminently qualified to work with executives on corporate change efforts. You can contact him at email@example.com .
Many more articles in Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives