My work as an executive coach has me working with leaders constantly. I can’t help but notice that they have a wide variety of reasons for doing what they do. When asked, they tell me things like this: “My job as a leader is to motivate people,” or “I’m here to tell people what to do and how to do it,” or “I’m here to serve my constituents.”
Recently, though, I had an astonishing conversation along these lines with a very “awake” CEO of a large manufacturing holding company.
Much to my annoyance . . . and then wonder, our talk heavily challenged my own notions about a leader’s role in relation to the world.
This CEO asks his people at all levels to consider the question: why are you here on this earth? This question, when taken to heart, is like an infection. It can rearrange for the better the lives of individuals, organizations, and, presumably, nations.
So what about this dude? Why are he and his companies here? He didn’t wait for me to ask the obvious question. He said he and his companies are here to make the world a better place and to touch people’s lives in a positive way every day. From my conversation with him, I can tell you: he means it.
But okay, if that sounds trite or facile, then just hang in there with me for a moment.
Let’s say your plant manager complains to the finance department that the rising cost of workman’s compensation insurance is going to break the bank. Those folks get together and reframe the discussion to be about making the world a better place. Immediately the nature of the dialogue changes to be about safety, and people going home healthy and happy every night. My new CEO friend said this happened in his organization. You end up making the factories safer and better places to work, and people going home happier and more satisfied. Then, as merely a byproduct, your insurance rates go down . . . really a lot—something you had basically forgotten about in your exuberance to do good things in the world.
Now try a little thought experiment: thinking about healthcare, finance / the economy, international relations, relations among religions, or even your own workplace—what would be different if many or most leaders in these areas operated from the core notion that they are here to make the world a better place and to touch people’s lives in a positive way every day?
I’m thinking life would be a lot better. I’m feeling that this notion is a big winner, and hey kids, let’s make this a more explicit responsibility of leadership. Certainly a world more oriented this way is one I want to help build, and to live in.
Until now I’ve always asked my executive clients at some point: how do you see your role as a leader? What are you here to do? Yet, I’m sorry to say I’ve never challenged them along these lines. But you can bet I will do that from now on.
Whether you are a leader of others, or a leader in your own life, I challenge you to apply this notion—to take it for a test drive. One important way to do that is this : As you think about casting your vote for the next leader in the upcoming presidential election, ask yourself, your friends, and your family: which one of these people do I feel is most likely to make the world a better place and touch people’s lives in a positive way every day? If you can’t think of anyone, then use those questions to create a new choice.