Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Beware the Folly of Acting Corporate

Have you ever been told by someone, when you need their time, to "Get on my calendar"?  Most of us that work in a corporate setting have heard this said at one point or another.  It doesn't mean any one thing because everything relates back to the context in which it occurred. But given that I dedicate many of my posts to leadership and the interrelation of people, I would like to focus on on the concept that I refer to as "Acting Corporate".

No matter what generation you examine - Boomers, X, Y - almost everyone holds the belief that people holding higher titles in an organization are inherently more smart/wise/powerful/infallible.  That's not hard to disbelieve considering that the human species has spent its entire existence going from one hierarchical civilization to another.  Essentially we've gone from the tribal model to the warlord/dictator, to the monarchy, to eventually some sort of republic/democracy hybrid.  In each case there has (or is) always a hierarchy.  Today we see that not only in the political realm but in the socioeconomic realm as well.  The people at the top of these structures are considered to somehow be better than those below them.  For better or worse, that's just human nature.

So let's take that into the corporate realm.  Very often we see leaders at the top of the structures, typically at director or (x)VP positions who take on a specific type of attitude.  They begin to be less approachable, less interactive with their staff, and even dress in markedly different ways.  Of course there are some good reasons for this type of behavior.  For one, a vice president typically has a broader set of responsibilities than a "line level" worker.  The VP may also have more people asking for his/her time and thus must be much more structured in order to maximize the amount of work they can do and the number of people they can see.  This is not what I mean by "Acting Corporate".

Let's take a quick step back and examine the workforce of today in the United States (and the 1st world).  Here are a couple of "truisms" about the people filling all the positions.  (Also, keep in mind that Warren Buffett, one of the richest people on the planet, has said that the only major differentiators between him and "average" Americans is that his money allows him to travel in more comfort than others.)

  • Unless we're talking about certain types of labor jobs, most American workers of today share roughly the same level of education - High School diploma and the bachelor's degree
  • The entry level employee goes to the same movie theater as the CEO
  • Everyone shops at the same grocery store and eats basically the same food
  • Almost everyone drives the same types of cars, most of which are late-model versions and all share the same roadways
  • Everyone owns the same types of phones and computers while having the fastest internet connections
  • Everyone goes to the same malls
  • While some employees send their kids to private schools and others go through the public system, they are all learning the same types of things.  They probably all play sports against each other as well
  • Everyone watches the same channels and shows
  • When the local professional sports teams play, folks at all levels and walks of life are sharing space at the arena
I've been on six continents and do understand that these conditions are not universal on the planet.  However, in the 1st world all of what I said above in bullet points above is true.

Ok, so what is the point?  What I'm trying to tell of you is that, as leaders, outside of your company's org chart there isn't a whole lot that separates you from the people who work under you.  Rather than finding ways to aggrandize yourself by putting hierarchical barriers between you and your staff, spend as much time as you can with them.  Using informal methods, exchange information, get their input, and treat them as equals from a humanistic perspective.  If you treat your team(s) like inferiors who must supplicate themselves to get your time, they will comply but disengage as well.  Understand just how much more you can get from all of your people when the relationship you have with them is fluid and organic. 

Don't make the mistake of creating an aura of superiority or unavailability.  In other words, don't "Act Corporate".  When all is said and done, what you end up doing is truncating your capabilities by decoupling from the very people who are (or should be) there to promote your success.

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