Wherever I travel around the globe, I have a habit of stumbling into significant leadership stories.
It doesn’t matter if it’s North America, South American, Europe or Asia, every place I visit seems to be going through some sort of business or political crisis that reveals what it really means to be a leader.
Last week, I was in Brazil for my fourth visit in the last two years. I was there delivering a couple of keynotes for a client and spend some time with our customers.
On my first trip to San Paolo in early 2016, I arrived on the day that millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest government corruption involving some of the country’s biggest companies. I got a first-hand account of the frustration, anger and sense of hopelessness many Brazilians had about the future because of the lack of faith they had in their leaders. I wrote a blog about my experience.
In my most recent trip, another big leadership story was unfolding. Brazilians were in the grips of a contentious presidential election. Immediately following my visit, we learned that Jair Bolsonaro had won, signaling a sharp shift to the right.
Brazilians were desperate for change, even if it meant bringing in a leader who has expressed some concerning perspectives about how he intends to govern. In the end, the Brazilians I talked to wanted their country to calm down, they wanted the economy back on track and they wanted to live their lives without all the turmoil, corruption and disarray that has existed for years. They wanted their house in order and I do hope that happens for them.
On my flight back home, I reflected on my many discussions and I began to see many parallels between what has been happening in Brazil and what I see happening in companies—especially when the top of house is in disarray.
I believe employees look to the top of the house—the C-Suite executives and other senior leaders—for vision, strategic direction, hope and inspiration. When those core competencies are in short supply, people are angry, frustrated and fear the future. Over the long haul, those emotions will lead to complacency and apathy. That is not a recipe for success.
We can see this phenomenon playing out all over the world. Elon Musk’s behavior this summer is a clear example. A series of alarming and provocative statements and social media posts undermined his personal credibility, while making the market and investors nervous. Eventually, the Securities and Exchange Commission fined Tesla $20 million and forced Musk to step down as CEO for three years.
Other times, disarray at the top comes when a company hires and fires a series of CEOs in rapid succession. I’ve heard of organizations having three or four different CEOs in the span of a year or two. This is unsettling for employees, customers and investors.
Another sign of trouble could be when there is turmoil at the top of the house, either at the board level or within the C-suite. Some have cited the White House as an example. Deutsche Bank has also been described as going through this experience and all eyes are on the board and what appears as fractious relationships.
Regardless of the reason, when the top of the house is in disarray, confidence is undermined, engagement is eroded and everyone remains stuck. It’s like a house of cards that comes tumbling down.
In another recent Gut Check for Leaders blog, I shared some fascinating research done by the firm Willis Towers Watson and it is worth repeating. They found that when employees believe their executive leaders and the rest of their managers are working well together (in other words the house is in order) employee engagement jumps to 72%. However, when employees perceive executive leaders and managers are not working well together (a house in disarray), engagement drops to 8%.
So as a leader, it’s important that you pay attention to the state of your house. Whether you are the Chair of the Board, a CEO, or a leader of a business division, function, or team.
Here are a few questions for you to reflect upon:
- How aligned is my company or senior team?
- To what extent do we present a united front to the market, to our employees and other key stakeholders?
- Do we let personal conflicts become public?
- Do we and our team use social media responsibly?
- Does our senior team inspire confidence, hope and inspiration?
- Do I and my team appear to like one another and work well together?
In today’s complex world, it’s critical that there is unity and stability at the top of the house of any organization. How are you faring?
This week’s Gut Check for Leaders asks: Is your house in order?