The source of your pain: our leadership model.

Here’s the first part of my book introduction. Let me know what you all think!


People are frustrated.

Most of us are ready to give it all when we start a job. We are usually full of ideas for ways to do things better. We eagerly offer our whole intellectual capacity only to be told that it’s not our job, that it’s been tried before, or that we shouldn’t rock the boat. Our suggestions are ignored. We are told to follow instructions. Our work is reduced to following a set of prescriptions. Our creativity and innovations go unappreciated. Initiative is viewed with skepticism. Eventually, we stop trying and just toe the line. With resigned frustration, we get by. Too often that’s where the story of our work life ends.

Even the most promising employees can go through this downward evolutionary spiral. Ian should have been a model employee for a multi-billion dollar communications company. Instead, his first corporate employment experience was so poor he swore never to return; he’s now an entrepreneur. When I asked Ian what went wrong he told me “I could complete my day’s work in 2 hours. I asked for more, and I was met with ‘in time young man.’ I had no decision making power.” And this company has a reputation for thoughtful leadership and innovative products!

Ian quit and found a more satisfying way to spend his time. His parting comments to me were, “You know, sure, maybe over time things would have improved, but who wants to gamble their career, no, their life-energy, on the hope of sea change at an established, ‘successful’ company. I went on to pursue my dreams, and I’ve done so.”

If you have felt the urge to follow Ian’s example, you are not alone. Worker satisfaction in America is at an all time low.[1] Worker engagement and commitment to their employers is also at a low.[2] Unemployment has been 9% for 31 months as of November 2011. One would think that those that had jobs would be happy just to have them but that is not the case.

It is this deliberate disengagement that is costing billions in lost productivity. Disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line while breaking the spirits of colleagues. Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone.[3]As large as the costs are in lost productivity, my sense is that they are dwarfed by the costs of lost joy and happiness.

Bosses are frustrated as well.

If you are a boss, you have likely been frustrated about your work force’s lack of passion and ownership. You probably have tried to encourage them to make decisions only to have many seem more comfortable with doing what they are told. Empowerment programs start well but don’t sustain themselves. New workers come into the organization with low levels of self-empowerment straight from school.

This situation exists in even the best companies. Dr. Scott Mesh is CEO of Los Niños, a company dedicated to assisting the developmental needs of special care children. Los Niños is a Best Company to Work for in NY Award Winner in multiple recent years. I met some of his employees and it’s a pretty elite team.

Still, Scott has frustrations. “I’m babysitting too much. Some folks take care of stuff – they own it, grow it, love it, and have great results. Others need reminders – maybe they don’t do the killer follow up or they have other needs.”

Scott Mesh from Los Ninos.

He is not alone. A recent survey indicated that 44% of business leaders reported disappointment in the performance results of their employees.[4]

This frustration from all sides in the workplace has one root cause: our current leadership model.

[1] accessed 13 July 2010.

[2] accessed 17 November 2011.

[3] accessed 12 July 2010.

[4] accessed 17 November 2011. Reporting the results of a survey by Leadership & workplace Communication Expert Skip Weisman.

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