Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Problem With Corporate Success - part #1

More and more people in senior leadership positions are struggling. After the stress and uncertainty that started in September 2008 through to the spring of 2011, being stretched and busy does not capture half of what they are feeling. Most are just worn to the core of their being by the endless amount of work, constant complications and continual complexities that are surfacing each day and each week. Most would just be satisfied with some old fashion success.

In the dictionary, success is defined as “a favorable or desired outcome,” “the attainment of wealth, favor or eminence,” or “a position of prominence or superiority.” In the world of business, corporate success in simple terms can be defined as fulfilling the mission of the organization, living up to the organization’s core values, and accomplishing the goals as outlined in the strategic plan.

What many people do not understand is that there is a dark side to corporate success. First, it can be addictive and blinding. I have witnessed many times a Board or senior team fall in love with bricks and mortar. They just want to keep building new buildings, and keep cutting ribbons even when it does not make sense or is strategically wise.

Second, corporate success can lead to overcommitment and goal obsession. Some executives believe that if they can do one thing well, then they and the company should attempt to do 50 things at once. The assumption is that they can multiple their accomplishments.

Third, corporate success can generate an entitlement mentality. Some believe that “we will win because I have always won.” These leaders focus on how their contribution made all the difference. The result of this entitlement mentality, notes Marshall Goldsmith in his excellent book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Hyperion, 2007, can cause people at work to not clearly communicate a vision, treat people with respect, solicit contrary opinions, encourage other people’s ideas or listen to other people in meetings. In the words of Bill Gates, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

Fourth, corporate success can create cognitive dissonance, another term found in the above book. Cognitive dissonance reflects a disconnect between what we believe in our minds and what we experience or see in reality. Furthermore, the more we are committed to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that the opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that shows we are wrong.

Fifth, corporate success does not always translate into personal success. Right now, many are feeling that the company is winning at their expense. For them, it is a win - lose relationship and the losers are burning out. From my experience, our issues with corporate success become more of a problem when you walk through the door at home. It is hard to remember that a family is not a corporation. Our flaws at work don’t vanish when we walk through the front door at home. At times they are magnified by home dynamics, especially if we dump on the people we love. We forget that most days they are worn too.

In the beginning, when we choose to deal with the dark sides of corporate success, we need to listen carefully to truths that are shared with us. For example, late last fall I went in for my annual physical. During a review of my blood work, my doctor told me my cholesterol count was moving in the wrong direction. As a result, he wanted me to exercise every day. Now I could have blown this off as I was in good condition and other than a number moving toward the upper numbers, it was not in the dangerous category.

But from experience and listening to others, I knew that the best time to change is now rather than later. As a good friend said to me many years ago when I was dealing with another health issue, “What are you waiting for? Do you want it to get worse before you deal with it?” I knew she was exactly correct. The movement from worse back to healthy was a greater journey than from having a problem back to healthy.

For us here today, we must recognize that there is a dark side to corporate success and we each have important choices to make when confronting it.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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