I recently got a call from an old Air Force Academy
buddy who is the CEO of a company hit hard by the economy over the past 12 months. He’d spent the afternoon visiting with employees to get their perspectives on the state of the business.
The experience wasn’t uplifting. His question is pretty common today: “How do I motivate people in this environment?”
It’s a challenge in the best of times, he added, when you’ve got veterans in their 60s, 20-somethings and everyone in between to lead and manage, but lean times make it even harder.
What he saw:
- Fear and frustration: The employees were still upset by layoffs of fellow workers during the past year.
- Fatigue: Now that the work force was smaller, their workloads were heavier than ever before.
- Stress and anger: Last year’s pay cut was starting to really hurt. When would they get their old salaries back?
- Lack of cohesion: Multiple generations, all in one place, with distinct — and not necessarily harmonious — approaches to work.
I offered my friend the same advice I offer to business executives who struggle with the same concerns.
“You’re a good leader,” I said. “Now, you need to become great.”
What’s the difference between good and great leadership? A good leader gets people to “follow the leader.” A great leader instills confidence in others so they can go forward on their own steam to become leaders themselves.
Our minds are like GPS systems; we need to have a destination programmed in to focus forward. Without it, we wander around in the muck and mire of the past.
Running marathons has helped me in many areas of life, particularly when I’ve been hired to turn around a failing company. The visions we create in these companies, just like the personal vision I create of crossing the finish line in a race, keep us going forward.
If employees can create a collective vision of the company’s success, the fear, fatigue, stress and anger will be transformed into commitment, purpose and positive energy. The baby boomers will be too focused on their goals to worry about everybody else’s work ethic. The Gen Xers will be too busy to complain and the Gen Yers will be engaged as recognized members of the team.
Mike Matte is owner and president of Marathon CEO Leadership.