Leadership 101: Don’t be so obvious about the stuff that actually matters to you

Leadership and What Matters

Here’s something I’ve run into for pretty much the entire 12-13 years I’ve been working: oftentimes, senior leaders — people at the top of a silo within an organization, or an organization as a whole — clearly have things they care about and things they don’t. Usually this corresponds to revenue (in the A-Category) and “soft skills” (in the B-Category). I don’t say this as a “OMG HOW COULD THEY?” thing; rather, companies need revenue to exist/function, so at a certain point senior leadership really should be focusing on revenue.

We’ve been talking about these ideas around “employee engagement” or “organizational health” for many years now, and we’ve probably all seen the Gallup stats about 13 percent of the workforce being truly engaged, or whatever it is. There are two different approaches to employee engagement (well, probably three): you can view it as a total consultant-driven scam to bring down wages, you can try to work with a bunch of “software vendors” on the problem, or you can fully buy-in, in which case you’re probably one of a handful of people you work with who actually “get it.” (There are other options, but those are probably the core ones right there.)

Here’s one thing that I often feel like drives active disengagement and we don’t discuss it a lot: leaders who clearly ONLY care about 1-2 aspects of their silo, and treat the rest as “Ugh, I have to deal with this?”

The whole logic and research behind “work” and “purpose” is pretty fuzzy — your job should have purpose, but no companies really understand how to define that aside from “Here’s a check” — but I think most people would agree that if they’re going to spend 1/3rd of their life at something or someplace, they want to think the stuff — the tasks — they’re doing while there actually matter.

So if you have leaders who manage 10-12 different projects, right? But clearly 1-2 of those are the whales? (They make the money.) And that leader only ever does 1-on-1s with the whale-project managers? And the other 8-9 project managers can’t get on any radar screen?

Of course that would drive disengagement.

Think about this: you come into work every day. You forego vacations and hit deliverables, right? You work 10-12 hours — or at least you claim to! — and you put your heart and soul into some project(s), and then clearly the big dog in your department can’t even be bothered to care about it? 

I’ve honestly almost never had a job where I work on things that matter to high-level people, so this is my everyday reality for over a decade … and it seems like it explains disengagement pretty well.

Ted Bauer