What Makes a Dynamic Leader?

by Larraine Segil

Emotional commitment is critical for being an effective dynamic leader. For these leaders, commitment is about emotional vesting, perseverance, and passion. The sense of reward they derive from their accomplishments feeds more than their pocketbooks: It feeds their souls.

The word "emotion" is used with restraint in business. It is often equated with weakness and instability. Emotional vesting does not mean losing emotional control. Nor does it mean burdening your coworkers or superiors with emotional problems. Emotional vesting means that the individual has the capacity to have strong and passionate expectations for positive results. It means working with commitment and not clocking in and out on a rigid schedule, but rather as the workload and projects demand. Vesting in the activity means that the desire for success is high --- and so are the rewards.

The Environment for Emotional Vesting

Some shortsighted companies may rationalize a high level of emotional vesting by individuals as an excuse not to be concerned about the organizational environment. If employees love their work, they might say, then the working conditions will not matter. That is a very dangerous rationalization, though it may work in the short term. But, as pressures of growth and market changes cause work to be restructured or redefined, the environment and the corporate culture will become a more compelling factor in attracting or retaining people. Lack of attention to a consistent corporate culture is certain to drive away emotionally vested dynamic leaders.

What is common in highly political and bureaucratic organizations is that the emotional vesting is psychologically beaten out of people. Eventually, they protect themselves emotionally from such hurt by not giving their all to make success happen, individually or organizationally.

One sure-fire way that organizations can foster emotional vesting is through fun. Says Valerie Salembier, publisher of Esquire magazine, "The Esquire staff is incredibly committed to what we are doing, but it's also fun. We've created a work environment where there is a whole lot of laughing going on. There are so many ups and downs every single day, it is like a big roller coaster ride. As such, one needs to make sure that the people on the team are enjoying what they do so that they can leave at the end of the day happy. All of us believe passionately in this magazine, and because of that we can create the best product and do the right thing for the customer."

Encouraging individual contributions also mean listening to those with ideas and stimulating and rewarding the energy of creativity. One of the best ways to do this is to give people the flexibility to express their emotional vesting on their own time and in their own way. Hewlett-Packard boasts one of the lowest turnover rates in the dynamic high-tech industry, only 5 percent in 1997, even though former CEO Lewis Platt confessed to HP employees, "I can't offer an easy job. Jobs are not easy here. I can't offer short hours. The hours are not short here. But I can offer a lot of flexibility." Tremendous flexibility in work hours helped combat what Platt referred to as "invisible burnout," where employees show up physically but not mentally.

Balancing Work and Personal Life

For some dynamic leaders, the work affiliation and emotional vesting can encroach on home life --- which causes work and personal life to become out of balance. Although periods of imbalance are normal, when they become a way of life, smart organizations provide opportunities for change. Large law firms, for instance, have traditionally offered multi-month sabbaticals to their partners. The hope is that renewal will avoid the burnout that occurs from the hundred-hour workweeks that are a normal part of the profession.

Since the pivotal events of September 11, 2001, the immediacy of life, its fragility and the value of meaningful work is even more important. Dynamic managers need to temper their emotional vesting and commitment to include work, family and community --- and their often delicate interrelationship --- as life's priorities change. Thousands of executives, police, emergency workers, and firefighters perished in the terrorist attacks, and for the first time many young leaders and managers between the ages of 25 and 40 reflected on their own mortality. The average age of those who died that day was 32. Many were dynamic leaders in the making, moving into the growth years of their careers. This tragedy caused everyone a moment of re-evaluation. Commitment has focused on community, family and work --- which has created a changed reality in many organizations.

Dynamic managers find ways to detach from the work environment in order to recharge and renew. Valerie Salembier has an unusual way of doing this: She manages a Rotisserie League Baseball Team. She explains, "This is a statistical betting league for those of us who always wanted to own a baseball team but couldn't afford the $400 million to buy one."

Whatever their avocation, dynamic managers find stimulation and renewal by giving back to the community and by engaging in activities outside the workplace. Management gurus talk about corporate renewal all the time, but equally important is the personal renewal necessary to keep dynamic managers from burnout.

Strategies for Gaining Commitment and Emotional Vesting

Commitment and emotional vesting are characteristics that can be developed internally and nurtured by the organization. Here are some strategies for doing so.

To develop emotional vesting in yourself:

  • Conduct an audit of your emotional investment. Where does your investment lie --- in the organization as a whole, in your division, in your team, in your project? What is the degree of that investment --- high, medium or low? What affects your level of emotional vesting?

  • Make two lists: What things in your personal life are you passionate about? What things in your professional life are you passionate about? Consider integrating and cross-pollinating items on these two lists.

  • Get involved in projects (even if they are not part of your assignment) that you feel passionately about.

  • To assess the balance between your work and personal life, log the hours and general activities devoted to each for two weeks. Find three areas where you could improve this balance for yourself; then do it as a group activity for your team.

  • Has your value system regarding work and family/community life changed in the past 12 months? If so, list the changes you have made to implement the value decisions --- for work, family and community.

To enable commitment and emotional vesting in others:

  • Analyze the size of normal working units for your organization. If they include more than five people, can they be divided into smaller groups to create more intense emotional vesting?

  • Create an atmosphere where fun and individuality can flourish. This might involve workspace décor, music in the workplace, spontaneous rubber band fights, surprise outings with the team, etc.

  • Assess the kinds of meetings your organization holds. Are the roles of each meeting participant defined? Are expectations for each participant verbalized? In meetings, does the first statement define the goal of the meeting? Does the last statement review what was achieved and suggest next steps.

  • Recognize individual contributions, particularly in new ways.

  • Talk to and communicate with your employees about meaningful work. Find out what holds meaning for them individually and collectively. Communicate these insights among the employee community.

  • Examine the organizational structure? Is it changing? Is it centralized or decentralized? Have you adjusted the role of your group accordingly? Have these changes been communicated?

  • Train for cultural differences.

Larraine Segil is a Thought Leader on mergers, alliances and the importance of business relationships. Her latest book, "Dynamic Leader, Adaptive Organization: Ten Essential Traits for Managers," was published in March, 2002 as the lead book for Wiley Publishers. She is also the author of "FastAlliances™: Power Your E-Business" (Wiley, 2001), and "Intelligent Business Alliances," (Times Books, 1996). Larraine has been featured in BusinessWeek, CIO, CFO, Bloomberg News, and Internet World. She is a commentator on CNN, CNBC and Yahoo FinanceVision on alliances and mergers, and consults worldwide on alliances for domestic and global companies. Larraine can be reached directly at (310) 556-1778 or via email at lsegil@lsegil.com . More information can be found on her website at www.lsegil.com .

Media Contact: Cindy Kazan (414) 352-3535; cindy@communik-pr.com .

Many more articles in Executive Performance in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2003 by Larraine Segil. All rights reserved.

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