As the story is told, in the summer of 1969 Joni Mitchell chose an appearance on the Dick Cavett Show over a trip to Max Yasgur’s farm and in so doing missed out on her piece of rock and roll history as a performer at the epic spectacle known as Woodstock. She did however manage to insert herself forever into the remembrance of that event by penning “Woodstock”, the anthem. The song was first performed by her at The Big Sur Rock Festival a month after Woodstock, and subsequently included on her 1970 “Ladies of the Canyon” album. A decidedly up-tempo version would of course be made megafamous by CSNY on their “Déjà vu” release, one of the great albums of our time. So why begin a leadership blog with a rock history lesson?
“We are stardust; we are golden; we are billion year old carbon”
– Joni Mitchell
In the chorus of her boomer hymn the incomparable Ms. Mitchell observed “we are stardust; we are golden; we are billion year old carbon” and for the last 45 years these three succinct sentences have teased us into an awkward commingling of philosophy, science and spirituality. Whether you encamp with the brilliantly agnostic Carl Sagan, the spiritual and metaphysical giant, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, or the many hundreds of millions who profess even the most elementary belief in the brotherhood of man, you cannot deny the tingling tug of cosmic energy emanating from the fact of our common humanness. Whether you believe we were meticulously hewn from primordial clay by the hand of a benevolent God, or haphazardly concocted out of big-bang celestial soup, our most elemental common denominator lies buried deep within the meaning of this simple expression: “we are”.
So to what higher object might we apply this awareness as we contemplate the role of the leader?
“We are one, after all, you and I, together we suffer,
together exist and forever will recreate each other.”
– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Status quo in the overwhelming majority of corporations is a myopic focus on “Humans Doing”. MBO (management by objective) and all its mutant progeny have sprouted tentacles into every aspect of modern organizational endeavor. For a host of legalistic and utilitarian reasons, individual contributors (once known as “people”) have been herded into an increasingly banal collection of sanitized HR classifications, comprised of unprejudiced strictly-job-related capabilities, descriptors and coded rankings. Absent are any references to personal attributes: likes, dislikes, non-work-related interests, expertise, relationships, accomplishments or idiosyncrasies. God help the soul who inserts anything into the conversation or the HR file that in any way refers to Jane or John Doe as an authentic, sentient, exquisitely unique “person”.
88% of Americans feel that they work for a company
that does not care about them as a “person”
– Raj Sisodia
Over the last thirty years a phalanx of federal judges, legislators, race hustlers, gender warriors and slick, HR paralegals have neutered our ability to treat with people as multi-faceted individuals. In the race to a politically correct bottom, we have tripped over ourselves to create increasingly inoffensive newspeak for communicating at work. The linguistically homogeneous 21st century workplace compels us to conduct all manner of interaction within a precisely constructed context of “humans doing”, while simultaneously erecting obstacles to reaching out to each other as “humans being”. It is pounded into us from the first day on the job, “leave your personal life at home.” Person-ness has been left bloodied and battered along the roadside by this decades-long march toward a sanitized, dystopian uniformity in the workplace.
“Person-ness has been left bloodied and battered along the roadside by this decades-long march toward a sanitized, dystopian uniformity in the workplace.”
So is anyone really surprised to hear, year after year, the dismal statistics on employee engagement? Do we even flinch anymore when we hear that anywhere from 70% to 85% of the global workforce is either “checked out” or actively disengaged? In their most recent “State of the American Workplace” report, Gallup estimates that active disengagement costs the U.S. $450 to $550 billion per year. Do these kinds of numbers even move the dial on corporate dashboards? Is anyone in the C-Suite even paying attention?
Gallup estimates that active disengagement costs
the U.S.$450 billion to $550 billion per year.
Since few things in life are simple, the answer to the above question is “yes”…and “no”. There is a small cohort of enlightened CEOs, well documented by Dr. Raj Sisodia in his co-authored books, “Conscious Capitalism” and “Firms of Endearment”, who actually “get it”. These CEOs demonstrate a willingness to invest the hard work of authentic, inspirational leadership required to recover substantial portions of that $500 billion within their organizations. And the data cited in his books are clear and unequivocal – the path of Conscious Leadership leads to exceptionally successful organizations.
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth,
the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made
in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.
– Carl Sagan
Regrettably, the vast majority of C-Level Execs and organizations are either not paying attention to the generative power of discretionary effort or they have simply chosen to disregard the alarm bells going off at the operating income line. They discount the compelling, encyclopedic volumes of data (Gallup, DDI, Towers Watson, Accenture, Deloitte) and choose to avoid a path of intentional engagement with the workforce. Of course any thinking individual with half a wit about them would immediately ask, “why?” Why would otherwise intelligent, immensely clever B school superstars choose to ignore and squander an enormous source of latent profitability?
“When businesses successfully engaged their employees…
they experienced a 240% BOOST in performance-related outcomes.”
– State of the American Workplace Report, Gallup
This time the answer is really quite simple – Because pursuing an intentional path of engagement requires three things C-Level Execs avoid like Ebola: Change, Change, and Change! The traditional management tutelage of 90% of C-Level execs alive today skipped all the courses on discretionary effort, employee engagement and inspirational leadership. Virtually absent from the curricula of most prominent B schools is an authentic inquiry into the hopes, aspirations, interests, and fears of all those tens of millions of “people” who will one day report to the best-and-brightest our business institutions turn out year upon year.
In place of “relationship” and “inspirational leadership”, B schools feed our future managers the pabulum of leverage, line-extension and manipulation. And to help accelerate the interpersonal atrophy around the board room table, our legal and social institutions continue to apply layer upon layer of sanction and sanctimony to the administration of corporate policy, specifying the inadvisability of authentic relationship between real “people”. No wonder the vast majority of seasoned managers completely miss the larger and loftier opportunity of “discretionary effort” once they rise to C-Status within their respective organizations. Let me ask you a very simple question: “How long would YOU get to keep your job if you ignored and squandered over 2/3 of the assets at your disposal?
Think about it.
“How long would YOU get to keep your job
if you ignored and squandered over 2/3 of the assets at your disposal?”
There is a magnificent yet often overlooked truth about our lot as “humans being” and it is this: We transition to physical existence imbued by Spirit with a generous and purposeful bounty of gifts, meant to be remembered and shared to depletion. This wondrous assemblage of gifts is unique to each of us and helps define us as who “we are”. So as we go through our daily lives this who-we-are identity necessarily tags along with us everywhere we go. It comes along with us every single day we enter the workplace and it affords us the choice, to share or not to share, these selfsame gifts of creativity, talent, knowledge, enthusiasm, loyalty, experience, collaboration and much, much more. Unlike specific, job-related requirements such as work hours, quotas, cycle times, goals, deadlines and objectives, our “gifts” may neither be bought nor coerced from us.
It is up to us to decide when, where and with whom we choose to share these gifts. And the key to unlocking this vast discretionary-effort storehouse of “humans being” in the workplace is this: Our gifts are potentially available to whomever makes the effort to reach out with integrity and seeks to engage and nurture authentic relationship. We cannot be coerced into bestowing our gifts but we may choose to share them freely when we are inspired to do so. Understanding and embracing this simple principle of interpersonal relationship is an essential step to evolving as an authentic, inspirational leader.
“To remember the other world in this world, is to live in your true inheritance…To become human is to become visible, while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.”
– David Whyte
The crucial learning is clear. The leader’s job is so simple yet so very, very difficult. At its most basic level, inspirational leadership is about relationship…relationship founded upon trust, service, confidence and mutual respect. So it follows – the more intimately we know each other and the more willing to explore and expand mutual points of interest, the more likely we will co-create a basis for authentic relationship. If all we are encouraged to know or take time to know is how many cases per hour we can stack on a pallet, or how many years of seniority we have accumulated, it is not likely we will develop relationship. And when it comes time to foster teamwork and engagement around a strategic objective or kaizen initiative, if all we have in common is the color of our company-issued shirts, it is not likely we will create much innovative energy around the meeting room table.
“There is separation in life, but not separateness. We are all connected. You must find a way to break the self-imposed boundaries between people”
– David Bohm (quoted by J. Jaworski)
What leadership visionaries like Joseph Jaworski, Peter Senge, and Otto Scharmer have illuminated for us and have even created a process for accessing, is the inexhaustible energy of interconnectedness that emerges from our universal link to spiritual source and to each other. They challenge us to find new ways of observing, dialoguing, co-creating and stepping boldly into a future that is wanting to emerge. Joseph Jaworski tells us we must find ways around our self-imposed barriers and begin operating as a “single intelligence.”
But it all begins with acknowledgment and profound appreciation for the most rudimentary fact of human existence: “we are”. Joni Mitchell said, “we are stardust, we are golden” and in the workplace we are so much more than “Humans Doing”…we are “Humans Being”, with all the wonderful gifts of our unique person-ness right there for the sharing. If we are to develop as conscious, inspirational leaders, capable of engaging this unlimited potential of human creativity, we must tap into our place of deeper knowing, embrace the sublime secrets of connectedness, risk the high corporate thoughtcrime of interpersonal curiosity, and begin the hard work of evolving relationship into collective intelligence.