May 15, 2003
Paralysis – what a horrible thought. What if you found yourself in a situation in which you had partial or complete loss of motion and sensation in your body?
What if you were powerless or incapable of moving? Wouldn't it be awful if you found yourself in a situation in which you knew you had all the appropriate limbs, plus the desire for movement, but still couldn't move? Paralysis is not something any of us wants to experience or even think about. We all want the pipeline between our head and body working at full capacity.
Paralysis happens not only in the physical body, it also happens in organizations. I was having lunch with my banker and we were discussing the business climate today and how it's changing. Since both of us work with leaders, we began talking about their reactions to the changing climate. The conversation drifted to how some leaders actually de-energize their people when circumstances become overwhelming. He made a statement that seemed to sum up our lunch discussion: "When the market gets rough, some leaders become paralyzed, which paralyzes the company."
The analogy between physical paralysis and organizational paralysis assumes that like the head influences the body, the leader influences the organization. Leaders have incredible influence over the energy of a company. This influence becomes apparent when a leader becomes so overwhelmed that the company loses direction. Lack of direction causes organizational paralysis, which creates confusion, frustration, or irritation in the leader and affects the morale of the whole company. This is especially true if these behaviors cause the leader to blame those charged with producing results.
When employees begin to feel the effects of leadership frustration, they translate it into "Why try, we're not respected or valued for what we think or do anyway." Leader frustration and employees feeling disrespected result in a vicious "dance" that drains enterprise energy. Decreasing enterprise energy causes performance and productivity to end up in the pits.
The following stories illustrate the influence of leadership. One of my clients is a manufacturing company executive who faces the same world market circumstances as other organizations. At the beginning of 2002 he had a meeting with all of his key players to discuss what he wanted to see happen during the year. His opening remarks were realistic concerning the difficult market, customer needs, and the challenges of the economy. However, after he finished sharing the economic "facts," he said, "Now, this year we are going to refuse to participate in all the negative stuff going around. The biggest opportunity we have is to succeed in this changing market, which will mean we have to work a little harder."
What Tom Edwards, CEO of A.J. Weller Company, committed to was an understanding that they couldn't control the outside influences, but they could control their own mental attitude about that market. Edwards' company ended 2002 with a 15 percent increase in sales. His belief is that "things aren't bad, there're just different." Edwards helped his people focus on two things: a clear goal and building enterprise energy into everything they did.
Contrast Edwards' determination with another company leader who openly and consistently expressed his frustration and confusion about how to handle the present decline in market share. As this leader's frustration increased, so did his ability to absolutely drain the energy of his people. Employees, knowing they were going to get one more verbal beating for not performing well, looked on each meeting with dread. Criticism of slow cost reductions, performance, and results was a key part of each meeting. The energy of the organization was steadily drained until many of the long-term employees talked about leaving the company.
Any time leaders take frustration out on employees, they drain the very energy it takes to create the performance and results they want. I like what Benjamin Franklin said, "A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle." Getting too wrapped up in the circumstances and reacting negatively will make a very, very small package.
Another statesman and warrior, Dwight D. Eisenhower, said this about the success of an army (or a nation or a company): "Morale is the greatest single factor in successful wars." How does a leader keep morale high during these "different" times? I believe part of the answer is in how the leader views the market and how he or she challenges employees. Here are some leadership energy tips to consider:
Leaders have the responsibility to communicate perseverance to the troops. Jim Collins stated in his book Good to Great(concerning what he calls the Stockdale Paradox), "Retain absolute faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality."
Last, look for every opportunity to build energy in the troops. The vibrant, successful organization looks for ways to energize its employees. In the words of one of my clients, "Enterprise energy and the direction of that energy are the key to the success of that organization."
More to come on how to build energy to create the performance and productivity you are looking for.