Like a cannibalistic Warren Buffett, the business revolution has devoured its own children. In its wake, there is carnage. Papers lie strewn about empty boardrooms. Desperate execs scatter fruitlessly. Once they were power-hungry. Now? Just plain scared. There is hysteria in office stairwells. Helen from HR has been crushed to death by an errant photocopier, someone says. Nobody goes back for her. The weak will die anyway. There is no time for counting losses. A sad, pleading cry resounds, laughably meek in its lament: “We’re not paid enough for this!” they scream. It’s true. They’re not. The workplace-wide exodus continues. A man stumbles past- you don’t know who. His face is hideously mangled; he’s been impaled by a calculator. Keith from accounts has cracked under the pressure of it all. “Say hello to my little friend!” he yells, shooting staples into the crowd like bullets from a semi-automatic weapon. There is much bloodshed. You’ve got to get out of there, you think. You hate your job. Meanwhile, mothers weep. Children cry. And most strikingly of all, no one remembers to lock the stationary cupboard.
It’s not nice to be unhappy at work. Granted, you’re probably having a better day at the office than this. The truth is, however, that it’s no longer hip to talk about bad days, particularly if you’re in any position of discernible power whatsoever; LinkedIn in the ultimate act of “a plague on both your houses”, has convinced us that one bad day in 365 makes you a certified failure who should GIVE UP NOW. Feeling better yet? Don’t forget, your career is meaningless if you don’t rise at 4:30, send seventeen emails before breakfast and help to build a school for Vietnamese orphans on your lunchbreak, all in time for that team meeting at half past three. Or perhaps you actually enjoy wasting your workdays? Pity.
Simply put, corporate culture can be toxic and it leaves many people, especially entrepreneurs and business leaders, struggling in silence. One bad day is understandable, but when you begin to dread going into work, something has to change. After all, how can you claim yourself a captain of industry if you feel like a fraud? In the rush to own your story, sometimes it pays to slow down and take a minute to consider how you’re feeling about work and why that might be. And whilst it won’t solve everything (if you’re having bad days simply because you hate your job, then say a Hail Mary or two and put some hard brakes on deleting that LinkedIn account) we’ve gotten thinking about what to do when the doubt creeps in. Is your mind constantly racing with all the things you think you’re doing wrong? Here are some answers to a few of the most common corporate hang-ups that are stopping you from living your best leadership life.
OK. First off, what can I do if I’m struggling to manage my employees?
Good question. As any leader worth his salt will tell you, it’s all about putting in what you want to get out of a corporate relationship. You don’t have to be best friends with your employees; hell, you don’t even have to like them as people. You do, however, have to uphold that first tenet of human decency in any interaction you might have in or outside the office: treat everyone with respect. People aren’t stupid- they know when they’re being taken for a ride. I’ve had my fair share of minimum wage jobs; I can tell you from first-hand experience that there’s little point trying to foster some kind of twee attempt at a common bond that simply isn’t there. In short? Don’t tell your employees about your three-week trip to the Dordogne when you’re paying them minimum wage. They won’t like it.
I’m not that bad! I just feel like there’s a disconnect between us. Makes me feel like I’m not doing my job properly.
Power imbalance is only natural when you’re in a leadership role. That said, there are things you can do to engage with your employees as fully and humanly as possible; number one is practicing compassionate leadership. This is all about being authentic, and letting your employees know who you are and where you come from, without hegemonising the office with the iron-willed rule of someone who knows that they ultimately call the shots. Own your story; you want to be a leader? You have to lead. Make sure your team understands the manner in which things are run when you’re around. Mediate that with encouragement- you want them to feel comfortable enough to speak their mind. Ask employees directly what they think, request feedback. Act on that feedback. This creates not only a natural unity around the office, but a feeling of worth; validation makes people work harder and enjoy what they do.
It’s all well and good being nice, but it’s more than just ‘own your story’. I’m frightened of the fact that people will think my business is stuck in some kind of rut. How do I make time for worn-out employees to look to the future and think about where our company will be five years from now?
The 9-to-5 can feel all-consuming; there’s nothing worse than getting to the end of the day and realising there’s nothing left in the tank. It’s also true that planning for the future and championing innovation in the workplace are two crucial facets of business leadership expansion and that are quickly abandoned when ennui sets in. The answer is simple- give yourself time to make it happen. If this means that one afternoon a week, everybody downs tools and comes together to talk about their vision for the company, then so be it. That’s not to say that everyone will remain fettered to their desks for all eternity, never seeking promotion or moving on to pastures new. On the contrary, actively encouraging employees to envision how they see their current role developing over time can stimulate brilliant, thoughtful progress for your business. Not only that, working as a team and giving employees a chance to speak their mind allows them to own their story by taking pride in their work And who’s empowering them to do this? You.
Even if I do all this, I still dread going into work. I’m only just keeping my head above water and it’s giving me sleepless nights. What can I do if I’m feeling the heat when it comes to getting everything done?
You sound like you’re pressed for time?
I can’t catch my breath. I knew having responsibility at work would be hard, but this is ridiculous.
There’s no easy way out of this one. You chose to swallow the red pill; now you have to live with it. The higher up that greasy pole you climb, the more you’re going to feel you’re being crushed by the wheels of industry; more people to manage, more responsibility to assume, more things to do, people to meet, places to go. When you have your own business, these wheels become a veritable steamroller of crisis-aversion. And while, yes, that’s the occupational hazard you signed up for, it doesn’t mean you have to suffer alone. Opening up to your team can do wonders for taking a load off; own your story, even if that means admitting to struggling with deadlines, meetings, or simply knowing what to do next.
So, should I ask for help? Will my team want to do that for me? I wouldn’t.
Stop with the maudlin! Let’s be honest: ask people for help and you’ll most likely receive it. Lots of us enjoy responsibility; trusting employees with assisting you to answer the tough questions will bring out unexpected talents and get your team invested in their work. They don’t need to sacrifice their Saturday to get you back on track if you feel like you’re falling behind; simply try to schedule in a regular meeting to understand where your team feels they’re being spread too thin. After all, delegation is one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal; if you make an effort with your employees, they’ll do the same for you. Own your story– not only your strengths, but your struggles too. Ask people for help on tasks that don’t come naturally to you; it might give you a better grip on how to nail that meeting or approach a particularly difficult potential client. Your team might even have some new angles on how to complete those problem tasks you’ve been avoiding; stand back and watch the ideas flow! More relaxed now?
Getting there. One last thing, though. What’s the best way to make work less stressful?
Simply put, share. Share problems, share joys, share issues. Make your team as invested as you are in your business by forcing them to love it too. And how do you do that? By giving them a voice. Let them own their story. Make them feel they matter, that you see them as equals, that you’re legitimately interested in what they have to say, that their suggestions aren’t just a futile scream into the corporate void. Inspire them to innovate and they will. What’s more, it may just save your skin; you never know when a casual team spitballing session might strike gold. Let your employees feel they’re responsible for the good that comes out of their work, and more will follow. Trust them and they’ll surprise you. It’s always been the way; no great thought was born out of complacency, and it’s usually the people in the trenches who have the best idea what to do about the everyday issues undetected by higher-ups.
Any final words of advice?
To quote from an unlikely source, internationally beloved late-popstar George Michael is surprisingly on the money when it comes to the pernicious state of corporate stagnation and entrepreneur apathy. “Do you enjoy what you do?” George asks us in his subversive urban masterpiece on the joys of elective unemployment, 1983’s ‘Wham Rap’ “If not, just stop. Don’t stay there and rot.”
Damn right, George. And if there’s not an Andrew Ridgely amongst us who recognises that the key to satisfying business leadership lies in listening to your employees and proactively maintaining a creative, innovative culture of mutual help and encouragement in the workplace?…I’ll eat my Careless Whisper CD.
(Author: Anna Hanlon)