Organizational Leadership and a Better Society

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I think it’s a safe assumption, unless you’re a narcissistic sociopath, that people want a better society and want to contribute to that goal in some fashion.

There is plenty of frustration and uncertainty to go around in nearly every country. Social tensions permeate every aspect of our world and it is in the best interest of companies to make sure they are proactive about mitigating this as much as possible.

Short of launching some involved CSR campaign to support existing social programs aimed at providing a pleasant remedy to societal maladies, what can an organization do? I mean, they DO have a business to run and can’t be held responsible for everything wrong in the world… can they?

No need to work yourself into a tizzy, I’m not suggesting any of that. There is one simple fact that gives leadership within every organization an opportunity to positively contribute to alleviating some of the social ills that none of us want to continue.

In a word – employees.

Perhaps you’re thinking I’ve suckered you into doing more with engagement. You’re only half right. It is about engagement, but it’s not about being suckered into it. Society is made up of people and, without sounding trite, your organization is made up of people. What an amazing coincidence!

Think of the last bad day you had at work. Not the day when your internet connection died and you were in the middle of the best email ever written in the history of work.

I mean a day where you spilled coffee on your most expensive clothes, had 3 team members just refuse to do work and it was your head on the block, you ran out of gas on the way back from lunch (just before that big meeting) and became target practice for a wandering 10 pound albatross who had just had lunch – that kind of bad day.

Now let me ask you something. How was your day at home after work that day?

How easily irritated were you after all that? How much did you feel like positively contributing to being a good spouse and parent? How nice did you want to be to the trainee cashier at the supermarket who locked up the cash register and needed a manager to fix it? How forgiving were you to the server at the restaurant who brought your steak overcooked, even though they didn’t actually cook it?

These events all affect society and how we interact in that context.

Society is made up of people and, without sounding trite, your organization is made up of people. What an amazing coincidence!

Now that you have accurately located the emotional ire that festered in you on that horrific day, imagine creating that kind of feeling in a few hundred (dare I say thousand) people in the workplace. Then, send them out into the world after marinating in that tripe for about 8 hours or so.

Is that the society you want to live in? Yeah, me neither.

As organizational leaders, we have an amazing opportunity. We can positively influence the experience people have in doing what we collectively call “life”. We spend over 60% of our waking hours at work. Of course this atmosphere influences how we interact with everything outside of work. Sure there are exceptions, but we can’t abdicate our leadership responsibility and hang it on the behavior of a few exceptions.

As leaders, we can see the human potential in others and liberate that ability to achieve organizational goals – not to mention having a blast doing it – as well as individual professional goals. Fun and responsibility can, and should, coexist and it makes for a great way to improve society; one employee at a time.

Stop confining the effects of your leadership to the functions of the workplace. We don’t live in a vacuum, so we shouldn’t try to lead in one either.

 

Continue reading our New Leadership series with From Boomer to Gen Y Leaders: New Emperors Need New Clothes

 

Art by: Mollicles420

William is the Executive Director of The Leadership Advisor, an OD consulting company that works that globally with organizations in the areas of leadership, culture and employee engagement. His message "Human Flourishing is Profitable" has helped earn him the distinction of being an ambassador for the European Workplace Innovation Network (EUWIN), which is supported by the European Commission. William is a playful, witty and painfully honest speaker with a no non-sense approach. He is also the author of Personal Ecology: Self Management and the Art of Cultivating Healthy Relationships.

  • shawmu

    @williampowell, William, it may seem heretical to some managers to see the whole human being rather than the role they hold at work. Such a heretical thought is vital to what you advocate in this post. Workplaces will thrive when more managers ascribe to what you write here. Nicely done!

  • http://twitter.com/LeadrshpAdvisor William Powell

    Thanks Shawn. The most sustainably successful organizations I have seen get this. Their employee turnover is low, absenteeism is low, productivity is up, innovation is up and a joyful atmosphere is something you can feel.

    If I can feel it just walking in the place, I’m certain the customers feel it when they interact with the company.

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  • http://twitter.com/SparktheAction Spark the Action

    William, thank you for bringing to the surface that many (if not most) of us in leadership see our leadership as ‘arena-specific’. (Rhetorical question) Why is it so easy to allow leadership skills to remain at work when they are so desperately needed at home? That previous statement was spoken to my own ears before any others.

    Thank you for your work,
    Regards,
    Carl
    @SparktheAction

  • Danielle E. Aaronson

    I love that you discuss the conscious choice leaders have to make a positive difference and ignite the potential of their associates. Thank you for sharing such an optimistic message and I look forward to following you: @deaaronson

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  • http://twitter.com/LeadrshpAdvisor William Powell

    Great question Carl. In my experience, the view of leadership is, as you say, ‘arena-specific’. The healthier view of leadership is that it becomes a fabric of how you do life, not a component of your work efforts. If we, as leaders, practice healthy leadership across all the avenues of our lives, then we will approach work much differently.

    This isn’t a silver bullet for leadership, but it is a giant step in the right direction. It helps to remind us that there is a connection between things, and our work life cannot be vacuous to the world in which we live. Leadership is influence and it cannot be contained within the walls of an organization. It leaks out into society…for good or bad.

  • http://twitter.com/LeadrshpAdvisor William Powell

    I appreciate your feedback and yes, it is all about making a conscious choice. Leadership is and always will be based on that. Happy to connect and thanks for your contribution!

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