By Mark C. Crowley 6 minutes Read
A recent McKinsey to study on the Great Resignation came to a startling conclusion: Even though millions of workers have been leaving their jobs every month for nearly two years, companies still “don’t really understand why their employees quit.” While employers believe that people are quitting for higher wages and a better work-life balance, the truth is much simpler. The workers told McKinsey that they left specifically because they did not feel valued by their organization or their manager. And they didn’t have a sense of belonging at work.
My first question after reading the study findings was: “How can a leader or company in today’s world not know what people need to thrive in their jobs? And my next question: “Why do we always assume that higher pay will entice workers to leave their jobs when what employees clearly and desperately want is to be made to feel that they matter, that they are respected, appreciated, and fundamentally important?” for the success of your organization?
My conclusion is that too many managers in the workplace are so focused on doing, on accomplishing, on moving the ball down the field, that they rarely take the time to consider how their employees are feeling. And this lack of awareness is repeatedly proving to be their downfall. If they don’t feel love, people are especially likely to look for it in a job elsewhere.
Another awareness requires self-awareness
Nearly 20 years ago, the 75-member advisory board of the Stanford University business school was asked to recommend the most important skills leaders should develop. And their answer was almost unanimous: “self-awareness”. As Harvard Business School professor Bill George put it in his book true north, Many managers are so focused on establishing themselves in the world that they give themselves little time for self-exploration. And by not undertaking the essential inner journey to learn what kind of impact they intentionally want to have as leaders, they effectively leave it up to chance.
As a recent guest on my podcast, David Gergen author of the new bestseller, Hearts touched with fire: how great leaders are made made the powerful claim that leadership starts from within. “While it’s important to learn how the world works,” he told me, “it’s even more important that you learn how you work. You must learn to lead yourself before you can lead others.”
The truth is that most of us have received little guidance on how to identify our personal motivations, what kind of legacy we want to leave behind as leaders, and how to find our own voice. At our universities, business students are required to take traditional and technical management courses that include financial analysis, calculus, statistics, and accounting. But what is inherently missing are the experiences that will help them become more self-aware and self-assured. What the Great Resignation is helping to reveal is that the reason many leaders are not very good is because they don’t know who they are.
According to legend, “Know Thyself” was carved in stone at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece, more than 2,000 years ago. Clearly influenced by this, Socrates said: “Knowing oneself is the beginning of wisdom.”
Since leadership is effectively based on self-knowledge, it has become essential for all managers to embark on a journey of self-exploration, whether or not their organizations or educators require it. Here are some important ways to accomplish this.
Ask yourself if you are really cut out to lead other people.
As we now understand that human beings have come a long way in what they need and want in return for their work, and that feeling valued and esteemed tops their list, today’s managers need to ask themselves, “Do I thrive by seeing and helping others?” people are successful? The truth is that not everyone is motivated this way. No one should pursue a leadership career if they do not have a deep desire to help elevate the growth, success, happiness, and prosperity of people other than themselves.
In his essay, “Schopenhauer as Educator,” Nietzsche wrote that the way to find out what we were put on this earth to do is to go back to our past, make a list of the moments when we feel most fulfilled, and then see if we can draw a line. . through them. If our greatest joys turn out to come from individual hits and oneself-compliance, is a clear sign that we will end up competing with, rather than advocating for, everyone we manage. To be successful in leadership, the inclination to care for others must be in our hearts.
Define your core values
Values are the things we believe are most important in the way we conduct our lives. So your task is to ask yourself, “Am I committed to being trustworthy, courageous, grateful, generous, honest, fair, tolerant, humble, kind, trustworthy, and compassionate? The potential list of personal values is much longer, of course, but being clear about what yours are will define what you personally stand for and guide you in making all the major life and business decisions.
Identify your personal strengths, weaknesses and motivations.
It is not enough to self-identify what you do best and the disciplines you need to improve. You should also engage others around you to participate. Throughout my career, I have had many employees and colleagues point out talents that I did not fully appreciate in myself and practices that they said they admired. Most of that positive feedback was unsolicited. But when it came to discovering that I could be sarcastic at times, not to mention unorganized and too often indirect in my communication, I got that feedback by asking people I trusted to point out ways I could grow.
As you can imagine, it was deeply painful for me to hear that I had significant limitations as a leader. But that pain was brief, as I spent many subsequent years making sure those liabilities were erased. It’s better to know your personal weaknesses and work on them than to find out later that you didn’t get a promotion because of a character flaw or limitation you didn’t know you had.
The best advice in this regard: be curious, constantly growing, proactive self-discovery and always willing to improve. Look for friends who routinely tell you the truth without embellishment. And never shoot the messenger.
Review your education and how it impacts your leadership thinking
I was in my early 40s when a long-time employee of mine told me that I handled people very differently compared to most of the leaders around me. Fortunately, she said it in a positive way. But watching her also led to an epiphany I wished I had had much earlier in my career: My mother’s death at a young age and having an emotionally abusive father influenced me to lead people very differently. And for many years of my career, I just never realized that my upbringing could have had as much of an influence on my behavior as it did.
So, think about your transformational events. Did you have a father who was a perfectionist, critical, indulgent, or distracted? How did childhood experiences, family deaths and setbacks affect you? Reflecting on all of this will give him clarity on the kind of leader he wants to be instead of the one he was conditioned to be.
write your own obituary
If you really want to be inspired to become the leader you know you could be, think about all the ways you want to be remembered. What will be your legacy? What did you do to make a difference in the world? How many lives did you positively touch? If you do it right, the obituary you write for yourself is likely to make you cry simply because of how inspiring it is. And it should also influence you to live and lead in all the ways you want to be remembered.
In the 17th century, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote: “Whoever looks at himself and considers what he does, when he thinks, opines, reasons, hopes, fears, etc., and on what ground; that way he will read and know what are the thoughts and passions of all other men”.
His timeless observation: By deeply knowing who we are, we gain the access we need to understand other people as well.