LEADERSHIP COACHING WARNING: If you are looking for an upbeat coaching moment that will give you the four keys to being a successful leader or a whimsical quote you can put on your wall, DO NOT read this blog. This blog may bring a level of awareness you have been denying for years and, therefore, the threat of dealing with reality.
No, this is not a behind the scenes look at AMC’s cult classic The Walking Dead. In case you’re interested, this TV show is about a bunch of not-so-dead flesh eating zombies attacking soon-to-be-dead people in a variety of perilous situations. These not-so-dead will do seemingly anything to maintain some level of existence no matter what the cost, succumbing to all levels of craziness to stay “alive”, even if their version of alive means being not-so-dead. It’s all very tragic and entertaining! But I digress, seeing as how most of the executives I have worked with probably don’t even know what a TV looks like other than the ones they show their presentations on, so I’ll just keep this conversation focused on our work.
You see, I walk the halls of companies and, sadly, I see zombies. They aren’t really dead but their strategy and vision are, and it’s only a matter of time before they are roaming the offices with arms outstretched, searching blindly for the person they once were. These walking dead have compromised, to a large extent, what they stood for and worked hard to create and thus we see them enter into a type of survival mode. This is not a conscious process resulting from one singular negative incident but rather a steady erosion of values over time. This wearing away of self occurs because these individuals just can’t fight the resistance anymore. Whether it be a battle with the competition, other leaders or Board members, or with their employees, the fight rages on and can drag people down. All Hollywood drama aside, there is a reason why the average life span of most CEOs is only six years.
Now I know that this can’t possibly happen to you because you are so focused and driven to make your strategy a reality; you would never cross that line, right? But think for a moment and ask yourself if you have ever pulled back from your beliefs (even if only slightly) because the road to enlightenment was much longer than the path to compromise. Do you ever stop and wonder what this compromise might cost, no matter how big or small, even if it’s just this one time?
These opportunities to compromise occur everywhere: in your relationships, in your family, in your day to day activities. But what happens when it’s a company and the values are loosely defined? What happens to guiding principles like action oriented or continuous improvement, best in class, drive for success – to all the values you’ve seen and practiced over the years? The first year these corporate values are real and are the foundation for the changes you are going to make, the culture you will create and the strategy that will give you the success you desire. But the path is not a straight one and the resistance is high. You are challenged every day and there is no time to rest. You keep reminding yourself that this is why they pay you the big bucks and you continue to move forward. Slowly but surely the strategy goes from two years to five; success turns from growth to survival. You try to recalibrate yourself to the new reality, but there is a part of you that you know is being left behind and that you fear might be dying or already dead. Let me make myself clear, you are not a failure but you are not the picture of success you thought you would be.
So what do you do now? First, be honest with yourself. Even though your bank account tells you that you are a success, trust what is in your gut. Second, look into the mirror and watch for the dead eyes and the drained face that come from the wear and tear of compromise. In other words, beware of the zombie. Third, remember that you are the one that has compromised yourself, and you are also the only one that can return you and your company to the land of the living.
In any aspect of your life, survival is NOT living! Don’t be content to remain one of the undead or even one of the soon-to-be-dead. Break the cycle of compromise and take down the zombie!
My goal for this blog has always been two-fold. First, I have the opportunity to share my insights and years of experience with you, the reader. And second, I myself get to hear your thoughts, opinions, experiences, etc. To make this blog a mutually beneficial experience, I would ask that you take the time to post your comments, your questions and your own war stories from your years in the business. Let’s use this blog to generate dialogue on the issues we’ve all faced in our businesses and work together to come to some great solutions.