BY MARK C. CROWLEY
A recent McKinsey study on the Great Resignation arrived at a stunning conclusion: Despite the fact that millions of workers have been leaving their jobs every month for nearly two years, companies still “don’t really have a grasp on why their employees quit.” While employers believe people are resigning to get bigger paychecks, and gain a better work-life balance, the truth is something far simpler. Workers told McKinsey they specifically left because they didn’t feel valued by their organization or by their manager. And, they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work.
My first question after reading the study findings was, “How in the world could any leader or company today not know what people need in order to thrive in their jobs? And my next question, “Why do we always assume more pay will seduce workers away from their jobs when what employees clearly and desperately want is to be made to feel that they matter, that they are respected, appreciated and fundamentally important to their organization’s success?”
My conclusion is that too many workplace managers are so focused on doing, on achieving–on moving the ball down the field–that they rarely take the time to consider how their employees are feeling. And this lack of awareness is repeatedly proving to be their downfall. If they’re not feeling the love, people are especially willing to seek it in a job somewhere else.
OTHER AWARENESS REQUIRES SELF-AWARENESS
Nearly 20 years ago, the 75 members of the Stanford University business school’s advisory council were asked to recommend the single most important capability leaders should develop. And their answer was nearly unanimous: “self-awareness.” As Harvard Business School professor, Bill George expressed in his book True North, many managers are so focused on establishing themselves in the world that they give themselves little time for self-exploration. And by not taking the essential inner journey to learn what kind of impact they intentionally want to have as a leader, they effectively leave it to chance.
As a recent guest on my podcast, David Gergen author of the new bestseller, Hearts Touched With Fire: How Great Leaders Are Made made the powerful assertion that leadership starts from within. “While it’s important to learn how the world works,” he told me, “it’s even more important that you learn how you work. You must learn to lead yourself before you can lead others.”
The truth is that most of us have had little guidance on how to identify our personal motivations, what kind of legacy we want to leave as a leader–and how to find our own voice. In our universities, business students are required to take technical and traditional management coursework including financial analysis, calculus, statistics and accounting. But what’s inherently missing are the experiences that will help them become more self-aware and secure in themselves. What the Great Resignation is helping to reveal is that the reasons many leaders aren’t very good is because they don’t know who they are.
According to legend, “know thyself” was carved into stone at the entrance to Apollo’s temple in Delphi, Greece well over 2,000 years ago. Clearly influenced by this, Socrates famously said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”
As leadership is effectively grounded in self-knowledge, it’s become essential for all managers to take themselves on a journey of self-exploration whether or not their organizations or educators demand it. Here are a few important ways to accomplish this.
ASK YOURSELF IF YOU’RE REALLY MADE TO LEAD OTHER PEOPLE
As we now understand that human beings have greatly evolved in what they need and want in exchange for their work–and that being made to feel valued and esteemed tops their list–managers today must ask themselves, “Do I thrive in seeing and helping other people succeed?” The truth is that not everyone is motivated this way. No one should pursue a leadership career if they don’t have a deep desire to help elevate the growth, success, happiness, and thriving of people other than themselves.
In his essay, “Schopenhauer as Educator,” Nietzche wrote that the way to discover what we were put on this earth for is to go back through our past, list the times we felt most fulfilled, and then see if we can draw a line through them. If our greatest joys prove to come from individual successes and self-fulfillment, it’s a clear sign we’ll end up competing with–rather than advocating for–all the people we manage. In order to to succeed in leadership, an inclination to care for others must be in our hearts.
DEFINE YOUR FOUNDATIONAL VALUES
Values are the things we believe are most important in the way we conduct our life. So, your task is to ask yourself, “Am I committed to being trustworthy, courageous, appreciative, generous, honest, fair, tolerant, humble, kind, reliable, and compassionate? The potential list of personal values is much longer, of course, but being clear on what yours are will define what you personally stand for, and will guide you in making all of your most important life and business decisions.
IDENTIFY YOUR STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, AND PERSONAL MOTIVATIONS
It’s not enough to self-identify what you do best and what disciplines you need to improve. You must engage others around you to weigh in, too. Throughout my career, I’ve had many employees and colleagues point out talents I didn’t fully appreciate in myself and practices they said they admired. Most of that positive feedback was unsolicited. But when it came to discovering that I could be sarcastic at times, not to mention unorganized and too often indirect in my communication, I gained that feedback by asking people I trusted to point out ways I could grow.
As you might imagine, it was profoundly painful for me to hear I had significant limitations as a leader. But that pain was brief, as I devoted many subsequent years to ensuring those liabilities got erased. Better to know your personal weaknesses and to work on them, than to later learn you were passed over for a promotion due to a character flaw or limitation you didn’t know you had.
The best advice in this regard: Be curious, ever-growing, proactively self-discovering, and always willing to improve. Seek out friends who’ll routinely give you the unvarnished truth. And never shoot the messenger.
REVIEW YOUR UPBRINGING AND HOW IT IMPACTS YOUR LEADERSHIP THINKING
I was in my early 40s when a long-time employee of mine told me I managed people very differently compared to most leaders around me. Gratefully, she meant that in a positive way. But her observation also led me to an epiphany I wished I’d had far earlier in my career: The death of my mother at an early age, and having had an emotionally abusive father, influenced me to lead people very differently. And for many years of my career, it simply never dawned on me that my upbringing could have had as much influence on my behavior as it did.
So, think back on your transformative events. Did you have a parent who was perfectionistic, critical, indulgent, or inattentive? How did childhood experiences, family deaths and setbacks affect you? Reflection on all of this will give you clarity on the kind of leader you want to be rather than the one you were conditioned to be.
WRITE YOUR OWN OBITUARY
If you really want to inspire yourself to become the leader you know you could be, think through all the ways you want to be remembered. What will your legacy be? What did you do to make a difference in the world? How many lives did you positively touch? Done well, the obituary you write for yourself will likely make you cry simply because of how inspiring it is. And it should also influence you to live and lead in all the ways you want to be remembered.
In the 17th century, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote: “Whosoever looketh into himself, and considereth what he doth, when he does think, opine, reason, hope, fear, etc., and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know, what are the thoughts, and passions of all other men.”
His timeless observation: By deeply knowing who we are, we gain the access we need to understanding other people as well.
This article first appeared on FastCompany.com
Mark C. Crowley is a bestselling author and a global speaker on employee engagement and the author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century.