This month I’ll be delivering my very first TEDx talk. As one of only 4,000,000,000,000 people who have been allowed the honor of doing so, I am humbled by the opportunity to say whatever I think without anyone interrupting me. (I believe that’s why parents love babies so much and progressively become less and less enthusiastic about their children as they learn how to talk back.)
Anyway, I know many of you won’t be able to fly to Rio to attend the event in person, but I’m willing to overlook that, mostly because it’s not in Rio. However, I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at what I will be saying in not-Rio when it’s my turn to stand up and TED the crap out of everyone. (Side note: you can make pretty much any word a verb in English. Example: I’m going to rabbit over to the store real quick. You pretty much know what I mean, right?)
So here goes. Basically, I think there’s a fundamental problem in the way we think of leadership, and that problem is leading to massive employee disengagement. Roughly two-thirds of us are disengaged at work. About 20% of us are actively disengaged, which means we hate our jobs and are telling our coworkers that they should hate their jobs, too, and that 20% costs about $550 billion in lost productivity every year.
Now if you pay attention to this stuff, you might be confused, because polls also show that most of us are satisfied with our jobs. But there’s a big difference between being satisfied and being engaged. Satisfied employees are OK – they’re not excited to go to work, but they aren’t unhappy enough to quit. Engaged employees, on the other hand, love what they do, and they’re actively working toward the improvement of their company or industry.
Right now we talk about leadership as though it’s a single concept, with a single path to success – good leaders do these things, bad leaders do these things. But leadership actually comes in two distinct forms, which I’m going to call good leadership and great leadership. Good leadership focuses on our interpersonal communication with the people we lead, and this is what most of us – and most leadership education – spend the majority of time talking about – admitting mistakes, sharing credit, providing intelligent incentives and motivators, having an open-door policy, these kinds of things. Great leadership, on the other hand, focuses on our ability to communicate our vision for our company and our adamantine belief in the mission of our enterprise. Good leadership focuses on human interaction and connection, great leadership focuses on meaning and value.
The problem is that we haven’t truly acknowledged these two halves of leadership. So most good leaders don’t spend enough time thinking about how to be great leaders, and so we have what we have now – a lot of satisfied employees that aren’t really engaged. And most so-called ‘great’ leaders don’t spend enough time thinking about how to be good ones. George Washington was an undeniably great leader for somehow keeping the Revolutionary Army in the field during that winter at Valley Forge when they had no supplies, no food, and no hope of an easy victory. But he was also a terrible listener, so bad in fact that he basically refused to march on Yorktown because he was certain the final battle of the war was going to happen in New York; he had to essentially be tricked into marching on Yorktown by the French. Steve Jobs was a great leader at Apple with an amazing vision, but was not an easy person to work for. And you might argue that it doesn’t matter because these people achieved greatness, but let’s take a moment there. Washington was never able to get the Continental Congress to give him the supplies he needed, he spent half the war trying to keep people from giving his command away to other generals, and he prolonged the final stages of it because he wouldn’t listen to his subordinates. Steve Jobs was kicked out of the company he founded. He got it back later. But is it possible that it wouldn’t have happened in the first place if he’d had better good leadership qualities? Is it possible that Washington would have had an easier war to fight, if he had been a better good leader? Absolutely.
There’s more to it than this, but that’s the idea. I’ll post the link to the full talk when we have it. Until then, have fun!