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October 2015: Unconventional Wisdom Part II: Tongue-in-Cheek Solutions to Society’s Most Vexing Lead

Last month, I presented five leadership problems that confront today’s parents.

I realize that many of my readers are not parents, and would not have found last month’s blog particularly relevant. That won’t happen this month. Virtually everyone has to contend with life outside the home – in workplaces, civic institutions, and enterprises of all kinds.

With that in mind, I turn my attention to five of the most serious problems facing leaders of organizations.

1. Leaders Focus Too Much on Meaning, Not Enough on Money

Let me tell you, it’s a meaning-making world out there, and it’s driving leaders to focus too much on amoeba-like concepts such as satisfaction, joy, engagement and happiness.

My advice to leaders is, “Don’t take the bait.” Happiness, meaning and joy are greatly over-rated.

As the famous Chicago Tribune columnist, Mike Royko once wrote, “Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic, and I will show you somebody who hasn’t the faintest idea what the heck is really going on.”

Leaders should be focused on one thing and one thing only: Money – revenue, profit and return on investment. We call money “the bottom line” for a reason: It’s the most important thing in the world, and accumulating it makes you something special.

Any business leader who doesn’t know that should leave and go work for the government.

There will always be naysayers – mostly poor people, Democrats, rogue Republicans and the Pope – who think that work should ennoble humans to do great good in the world. Their view is that meaning, joy and engagement fulfills the grand purpose of being alive, and that too much focus on money can be addictive and life-choking.

You and I both know that’s simplistic hogwash.

Leaders need to get back to basics and focus on becoming filthy rich.

Because without money, there’s no way to keep score, and no way to know if you’re better than everyone else.

And if you’re not going to be better than everyone else, what’s the point of being alive?

2. Leaders are Not Motivating

Just because you’re focused on money, doesn’t mean you have to be boring.

Every leadership expert knows that motivating employees should be job #1 for those who run companies. Yet we’re in an age where heads of companies are failing miserably as motivators.

Times have changed since people felt fortunate to have a job and would do anything to keep it.

These days, a job is like a love interest: if you don’t like it, you move on. The one variable that can keep employees happy and faithful is a motivational boss.

What is a motivational boss? I’ll tell you: It’s a boss whose sole job is employee happiness.

Many CEOs waste their time on strategic planning, watching cash flow, kibitzing with high-level customers and trying to improve operational efficiencies.

Every second you spend paying attention to the business is time you are NOT spending on employee satisfaction.

Leaders should be conducting daily “happiness talks” with employees. Think of “happiness talks” as one-on-one fireside chats that combine the intimacy of a therapy session with the exuberance of a pep talk.

Our employees deserve nothing less. And will leave unless they get more attention.

I know this philosophy of putting employees first contradicts what I said above about the importance of focusing on money. Life is full of contradictions, so go figure this out on your own.

3. Too Much Genuine Connection, Not Enough Meetings

Members of leadership teams spend too much one-on-one time with each other.

It’s true that as peers, it would help if they knew a little bit about each other. But constantly seeking to connect, asking questions of one another, and finding ways to support each other’s initiatives, is a poor investment of energy.

Executive colleagues should confine their interactions to team meetings where each member presents updates and progress reports. Though not known for their liveliness or innovation, these meetings foster feelings of togetherness, even if team members don’t know exactly who it is they’re working with.

One-on-one interactions take too much time. And they promote intimacy, which makes everyone uncomfortable.

It would be safer to keep all executive exchanges superficial and meaningless. What better way to do this than more group meetings?

4. Firm Leaders Are Too Focused on Holding Partners Accountable

I want to direct a point to managing partners of professional firms – accounting firms, medical practices, law firms, engineering firms and any other firms where one partner is clearly the partner-in-charge.

Many managing partners think they should be true leaders who orchestrate the firm vision, hold other partners accountable and promote responsibility and maturity throughout the firm.

Get that high-minded idea out of your head.

As managing partner, your job is to be a figurehead, not a functional leader. That is something you should never forget.

What your partners really want is to be left alone. Accountants, engineers and attorneys are the non-medical equivalents of pathologists and radiologists. They’re technically brilliant, hopelessly introverted, and allergic to accountability.

If you try to hold your partners accountable, they will vote you out as managing partner at the next election cycle.

Instead, become publicly visible. Hopefully you have been blessed with more pizzazz than your partners. Use that exuberance for its intended purpose: hobnobbing with clients and prospects.

5. Weak at Appreciation-Seeking

It would be unfair not to offer a word or two to family business leaders. Thinking about what can make family businesses run more smoothly, one strategy stands out: Family members should focus more on their own needs for acceptance and approval.

Family business owners can do this by more obviously favoring their children, which, in turn, will confer more appreciation from the children to the parents. This symbiotic cycle should become top-of-mind for every family business head.

Trust me, you will be much happier when your kids are continually thanking you. And the only way to keep that praisewater flowing is to do more and more for your offspring.

Don’t pay attention to wayward experts who believe that children will experience more self-confidence if they truly earn their stripes through legitimate accomplishment. These people do not understand the reciprocal back-scratching that anchors the parent-child relationship.

If you’re an adult child in a family business, the best thing you can do is thank your parents profusely for even the most mundane acts of kindness. All kids – no matter how old – know in their hearts that a parent’s true place is on a pedestal.

Some non-family employees will think you are kissing up, but you know the truth: you are simply giving your parents what they want, so that they can feel good about giving you a leg-up.

If thanking your parents means putting your own responsibilities on the back burner, so be it. Getting stuff done should always play second-fiddle to parental affirmation.

I realize that the ideas above go against much of the prevailing thinking of leadership consultants and family therapists.

Don’t let that bother you.

After all, it’s the experts who helped get us into this societal mess.

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