I don’t know about you, but I have found that one of the longest journeys I have ever taken is that journey of introspection when I have faced significant milestones in my career and life and had to determine which path to take as I approached the crossroad.
As a child who was often ill I got the opportunity to spend a lot of time in my own company, much of it in hospitals and a good deal of the time away from pediatric wards. For much of my adolescence the effects of my health conditions followed me. I didn’t get the opportunity to enjoy some of the normal activities that kids do like little league, pee wee football, etc until much later. Even then I wasn’t terribly athletically gifted or inclined.
I did become very good at observing people. When you are a child late at night in a hospital you become part of the surrounding infrastructure. People carry on conversations and interactions as if you weren’t there. They aren’t being rude; they just kind of forget you are there.
I loved the Mary Stewart trilogy about Merlin and Arthur as child as well. I could especially relate to Merlin. As the bastard son of an unknown father Merlin became an observer. He was not destined to be a warrior like his cousins and though later it was determined that he had a legitimate claim on the throne he recognized that it was his destiny to advise kings rather than occupy the throne personally.
That is a persona that I have co-opted for myself. I advise kings and princes, but I have little interest in occupying the throne myself.
The dark side of that observational ability is you see people hurt and flinch where others miss it.
This week I got to see that play out several times. I don’t manage to see it purely as an observer; unfortunately for me I feel their hurt as well.
In one case it played in my own family. We are an interesting group. To a large extent my father had an enormous gift of self confidence. He never seemed to doubt himself or his opinions. In an interesting paradox he was very sensitive to his own feelings, but almost oblivious to the feelings of others. He wasn’t intentionally cold or unkind, he just didn’t relate to being wounded by a word or action.
That kind of set the tone in my family. In many ways we are quite gifted. We have all enjoyed great success professionally. We also find ourselves enormously competitive and to an extent guarded. In my family you rarely if ever reveal your feelings, especially if you feel slighted or hurt, that reveals weakness.
My choice of profession and how I practice it still remains an enigma to my immediate family. To create space for myself moved away for several decades so to my nieces and nephews I think I represent a bit of a stranger. My family is proud of my professional accomplishments; they just don’t entirely get me.
Even though I am kind of an outsider when one of them hurts the other I feel it vicariously, as if I was the recipient.
In another situation I have a colleague who is a true philanthropist, not by profession, but by avocation, He works in an organization where his role as chief philanthropical officer is taking on increased importance to the sponsoring organization. He and I have spent the last many months trying to create a new philanthropic vision for the organization, defining philanthropy not as a transaction or simply a charitable contribution, but rather an investment in critical societal infrastructure.
It is a bold vision and creating a model where there is room for the grateful donor, the philanthropist, and the philanthropical investor is an interesting challenge.
As a gifted development professional he also lives in the world of relationships rather than transactions. This can be difficult when the sponsoring organization feels the tyranny of the urgent. They want dollars, cash dollars and optimally the sooner the better. Building the bridge between donor and recipient can be a time consuming process. Sometimes your initiatives don’t resonate with the donor base. Sometimes the focus of the donor doesn’t fit into the strategy of the organization. Trying to bring the parties together is not easy or simple.
In the third situation I have a dear friend who is on her own journey. She is a wife and a mother, but she also has goals and dreams about creating her own business that she has put on hold for a number of years. She is at the point now where she would like to be able to balance the investment of her passion and energy into her goals as well as her commitments.
Like in most relationships this changes the status quo. The other parties in our lives often don’t see anything as broken. They assume that those ideas and notions we had when we are young will just go away, especially if they were not the ones who had to subordinate their goals.
The common thread to me in all this is the importance and power of relationships.
I believe that the ability to build and sustain relationships is the key attribute that ultimately defines individual and organizational success and is the most important dimension of effective leadership.
As a former human resources professional and now a management consultant I speak and write on this topic frequently, maybe even obsessively.
This week I watched the stock market plunge because the Congress and the President could forge a meaningful compromise without a deadline looming down on them.
Employee dissatisfaction with their jobs is at historical highs, and nine out of ten Americans in a recent survey expressed distrust for the senior management of the organization they work for, nine out of ten!
If you ask does that matter, I would submit it does -
- Studies show that 40% of new or newly assigned managers and executives fail within the first 18 months of their assignment with the key reason not being technical competency, but rather the inability to build effective relationships.
- The Department of Labor estimates that employee turnover costs the U.S. economy close to $3 trillion annually.
- Presenteeism, the phenomenon where people show up to work, but fail to engage represents another $200 billion of leakage.
- U.S. organizations spend an estimated $100 billion on training annually. Studies indicate that the knowledge transfer after 24 months is less than 10%.
- Health care delivery costs us 12% of our GDP in 2010 with a substantial portion (approaching 20%) directly or indirectly related to depression, stress, substance abuse, accidents and injuries and other factors that deal with environmental factors like job dissatisfaction and anxiety about economic and emotional security.
- In 2010 the average compensation of the C suite went up 32% while the average compensation for regular workers went up 2%. Unemployment remains over 9%.
Outsourcing, lean systems, and trickle-down economics are not going to solve this problem.
There is no such thing as human capital; there are only people and relationships. Perhaps the sooner we recognize that and start our journey to build relationships based on mutual trust, respect, and personal competency the sooner we can arrive at a much better place….