One Foot Out the Door: How to Combat the Psychological Recession That’s Alienating Employees and Hurting American Business
Judith M. Bardwick
Bardwick’s purpose is to examine what she characterizes as “a widespread sense of vulnerability in the American workplace…After many decades of being fat, dumb, and happy, American businesses and American workers have been forced into a change. In a relatively short time, fat has morphed into thin and happy into frightened. Prolonged fear does not bode well for future success.” Throughout her rigorous and lively narrative, she examines the causes, effects, and implications of what she characterizes as “the psychological recession that’s alienating employees and hurting American business.”
In a study of 50,000 employees at 59 global companies conducted by the Corporate Executive Board, one of its most significant revelations is that “emotional factors were four times more effective in increasing employee engagement rather than rational ones.” Some of the most valuable material in Bardwick’s book is provided in Chapter 6 (“Commitment and Engagement – Not Morale or Satisfaction”) because without full engagement by everyone involved in the given enterprise, it will be difficult (if not impossible) to achieve its objectives, whatever they may be. She stresses the importance of asking the right questions, hiring and then retaining the right people, and measuring the right attributes; otherwise, employee “morale” and “satisfaction” are meaningless terms. She also provides a wealth of information and counsel that explains how to formulate and then implement initiatives that will help any organization to avoid or recover from the current “psychological recession.” I wholeheartedly agree with Judith Bardwick that we need “to regain our traditional spirit of optimism and fierce [but principled] competitiveness that makes us internally as well as externally competitive” because organizations “cannot flourish and fulfill their possibilities when their leaders and their labor force are chronically scared. Fear destroys energy, trust, teamwork, innovation, and courage.”
The Versatile Leader: Make the Most of Your Strengths – Without Overdoing It
Bob Kaplan with Rob Kaiser
Pfeiffer/John Wiley & Sons (2006)
Written in collaboration with Rob Kaiser, Kaplan has selected versatility as his “capstone concept” and notes several of its dominant characteristics. “”First, versatility is usually understood as a wide repertoire, along with the capacity to call appropriately on one capability or another…Second, versatility is defined as covering all of the two-sided bases that are deemed appropriate. The book is predicated on two major pairs [identified in Figure P.1. on Page xix in the Preface]…Third, being versatile in this sense departs in another way from the usual meaning of the word. It is not just having enough of both sides of every major pair but it is also not having, or more precisely not employing, too much of either side. Getting it right depends, however, on something that is not a foregone conclusion for leaders – having an accurate on how much they are deploying, neither too little nor too much.”
Kaplan then shifts his attention to the final characteristic. “Fourth, to employ pair-wise capabilities adeptly, two conditions have to be met. The individual must be evenhanded with each pair, when the tendency is to place too high a value on one side and to disparage the other. The second condition is that the leader be self-aware both about the way he or she behaves with respect to each pair and how he or she regards each pair.” The versatile leader, therefore, must develop a sufficient number capabilities and continuously strengthen them; he or she must understand the nature of each capability and possess the sound judgment required to know when to exercise which and to what extent; and he or she must, meanwhile, maintain (for lack of a better term) humility in combination with a sincere concern to serve those entrusted to his or her care.
As Kaplan makes crystal clear, versatile leaders are not creatures of expediency. They identify and focus on what is most important, then measure and reward what is most important, and meanwhile ensure that those for whom they are responsible do the same. Although they are versatile in terms of capabilities, they have steadfast, non-negotiable core values that they consistently demonstrate in their behavior. That is how they earn, preserve, and deserve their associates’ trust and respect. Versatile also leaders delight in others’ achievements and eagerly celebrate them. They think in terms of first-person plural pronouns. They are aggressive and tenacious but principled competitors.
Much has been written about how to establish and then sustain a “versatile” organization but as Kaplan so eloquently as well as compellingly explains, achieving that worthy objective depends almost entirely on first having developed a sufficient number of versatile leaders at all levels and in all areas.