I listened to a CEO speak to senior executives about the need to replace fear with authentic conversations in order to get true feedback. The CEO began with a statement of vulnerability: “Sometimes I want to open a session to questions, but I fear that I will not know the answers. Sometimes I am in a tax discussion and I do not ask questions because I do not want to look stupid. Sometimes in meetings I choose updating over discussion. In each case I am failing to build trust.”
The CEO was making it legitimate to discuss the undiscussible issue: people at all levels of organizations are driven by fear. They communicate their fear. It is manifest in the culture. We expect people to be driven by fear–even CEOs.
The focus then turned to purpose and the CEO made an even more important point: “We have to find ways to get everyone on the same mission. Every interaction matters. We do not have bad people. The problem is that we have not fully established a sense of mission. We have not attracted them into that sense of mission. They do not have a reason to fully invest.”
Every interaction matters. Why? In every interaction, we build culture. When fear drives our actions, as it usually does, we communicate that we are more concerned with the needs of our ego than we are with the good of the system. We build a conventional culture of self-interest. The employees are good people who behave according to the culture. If they lack motivation, they are not the problem. The authority figures are the problem; they have not created a persuasive vision, a sense of mission, and a culture of authentic communication.
Until we have a personal purpose that moves us forward in spite of our fears, we are not leaders. Until we have attracted our people to a sense of mission, we are not leaders. We are all accountable to this terrible fact. We become leaders when every interaction is focused on the common good and invites our colleagues to the common good.
- How many of my manager’s actions are driven by fear?
- How many of my actions are driven by fear?
- How can I build a positive culture by making every interaction matter?
- How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?