The Responsibility of Leadership

Posted by on Apr 8, 2014 | 2 Comments

paper ship in a female hand on white

An article on the Nine CEO’s With the Worst Reputations is making the rounds this morning on Yahoo!  Now, to be honest, I don’t know how solid this data really is, as it was comprised from mining employee reviews on Glassdoor (and you and I both know that, notoriously, people only review things when they’re unhappy).  To come to their conclusions, 24/7 Wallstreet took a look at the companies with 500+ more reviews (of which there were 225 companies).   Now think about that…with every product and service on the planet now asking consumers to complete their evals and reviews and surveys, the vast majority of us have become feedback-desensitized.  We’re all just too busy and there are too many demands on our time and energy, that unless something has gone terribly wrong, the whole feedback-thing naturally falls off our radar – it’s human.

One of the things that Shawn Achor encourages us to do in his book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work is that, if we’re looking to set new positive habits, to take a look at the amount of “activation energy” required.  The more energy it takes, the less likely someone is going to do it.  You have to overcome inertia.  That’s why if you want to get yourself to eat healthy, you have to keep the carrot sticks at the front of the fridge and be sure the Nutella is buried behind old bottles of vinegar in the back of your pantry, far from reach.  If it takes too much energy to do something, we just won’t do it.

So, with most people not wanting to take the time to even complete a short feedback form, imagine the amount of activation energy it takes to seek out Glassdoor and provide a review.  The people who actually go through that process feel strongly enough to overcome inertia and generate enough energy for them to take the initiative and write something.

With 500+ reviews for 225 companies, that means that, at minimum, 653,700 people had to go out of their way to post.  Imagine, if all those reviewers were to stand side-by-side, that would enough people to stretch approximately 187 miles – almost from New York City to Baltimore!

Out of these 225 companies, they focused their attention on the companies whose CEOs had the lowest favorable reviews .  That means 40%  or fewer, of the 500+ people who went out of their way to write a review, approved of how their CEO was leading (with the top honor only receiving 20% approval…).  Now to be fair, some of the approval ratings could have largely been due to market factors (I suspect that Gamestop having to close 500 stores resulted in a lot of unhappy people which may have had less to do with how the CEO was doing and more to do with massive changes in their industry), but these numbers do tell a human story that makes me rather sad.

Imagine spending 40+ hours of your time and energy each week working someplace with so many actively unhappy people.  People willing to overcome their own inertia to complain.  If you worked at this company, how would you feel getting up each morning?  How would you feel walking in the door?  How much of yourself would you happily contribute each day?  How committed would you be?

And what I know to be true is that this kind of negativity is toxic.  The Glassdoor-reviewers aren’t just quietly keeping their opinions to themselves and unleashing them on the internet, they’re unleashing them in the hallways of our workplaces, in their conversations at lunch – like a toxic gas choking our cultures.  Ignore it and everyone goes down.

If you tally the number of employees that work for these nine organizations, that’s 541,000 lives.  That’s almost the entire population of Wyoming.  This of course does not include the toll on their families, and their customers, and their shareholders.  What a responsibility it is to be a leader.

The thing I hate about these kinds of lists is that they’re always demonizing or celebrating whoever makes the top of the list – like they’re all-bad or all-good.  But it’s never that cut-and-dry, every life is filled with shades of gray.  It’s much easier to point-fingers from afar than stand in their shoes.

The question to be asking ourselves, when we look at this data, is what can we do?   There are things in life that we can control and things that we cannot control.  We may not be able to control the egos, or thoughtless public comments that are made at the top, or industries that expire, but we can control how we show up in the whole mess.  No matter how high up we may be on the corporate totem pole, regardless of how well our CEO does with their Glassdoor’s approval ratings (you’re going to go check now, arent you?), what personal responsibility can we take in ensuring that we’re having a positive and constructive impact on the lives of the people we personally lead and influence?

Maybe it’s just to ask powerful questions and listen in a way that others feel heard.

Maybe it’s to get in the trenches with the people who need to feel valued.

Maybe it’s to increase transparency.

Maybe it’s to help people understand how they matter in the company’s big picture.

Maybe it’s by finding avenues for others to participate in finding solutions.

Maybe it’s reminding them of who they want to be.

Maybe it’s by looking for ways to show that we care.

Maybe it’s by checking yourself firstare your actions congruent with what you stand for?  Are you growing yourself?  If the people you lead were to write a review about you, what would they say?

Maybe it’s by constructively dealing with the feelings of the people who make our businesses work instead of pretending the feelings aren’t there.  So their only recourse isn’t to passive-aggressively blast their disapproval out into internet-land.

Because nurturing the culture of our organizations is up to all of us.  While I completely agree that the tone is set from the top, we are not simply victims in the corporate game.  We can choose to stay or we can choose to leave.  We can choose to make a positive and constructive contribution or we can choose to jump into the negativity-fray.  We get to choose how we show-up in the face of it all.  We are more powerful than we know.

How can we own the personal responsibility – the privilege – that comes with leadership?  For if our cultures tank, it’s not just our stock price that’s going down – we’re all going down with the ship.

©OnStage Leadership, 2014;  Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. 


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