The Business of Doing Business

Simply stated, I’m at a crossroad, again. It's not a place with an actual stop light, clearly readable street signs, billboards or directional arrows telling me what to find in any direction. It’s not an intersection where I might find a police officer directing traffic and depending on which lane I’m in, he tells which way to turn. It’s not even an intersection where someone is handing out tracks that say ‘this is the way, walk (drive) you in it.” This one is in the middle of nowhere, with no signs or arrows, as if I had come to the end of the map and beyond it was blank. We, Michael and I, stop and look at each other, our glances suggesting that perhaps a wrong turn has been made somewhere on this journey. But clearly we know we haven’t, that’s one thing we know for sure. Clearly we know we have followed the path, mile by mile, and yet, seem to be in a place, whether real or perceived, that we didn’t anticipate. Over the years, there have been times when directions were crystal clear. Some have been hazy, but yet once the fog clears out, they are well visible. Right now, I would give anything for fog, knowing that eventually it will be gone, once the sun comes out. How did we get here is a huge, pressing question. Right on its heels is an even bigger question, certain to be more difficult to answer. That question: why?

Since about 2004, part of what I’ve done for employment is consulting, for churches, non-profits, and small businesses. It has been some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. Part of me wants to see others be successful, see others thrive and become the best they can be, and realize that I’ve somehow made a difference. This has been the case with most of the consultations that I’ve done. There have been significant wins with each organization. And I love that! How awesome to see a group of people, whether in a church or a small business, be able to maneuver past being stuck, take the next steps necessary to move forward and begin to gain momentum in the right direction. What that does for me pales in comparison to what I’ve seen it do for these individuals. Once the light bulb goes on, there’s no turning it off. People are energized, they find a resurgence of productivity within themselves, begin to see they are making a difference, and a broader purpose has emerged. All good things, all great things. Many times this starts by just giving them a glimpse of what is possible; a glimpse of what else can be done, what direction can be taken that perhaps they didn’t think of, what other lens they can look through to see their future. Once that vision becomes clear, motivation and momentum begin to change the steps each one takes, and pretty soon, the entire organization has shifted from neutral or parked, into at least first gear, all the while pushing the pedal to the metal, building speed for the team. Each person on the team feels wanted, needed, valuable, respected, listened to and challenged. From the depths of each of them comes a volcano of activity. The end results are amazing, and often times quite measureable.

What doesn’t often get measured is the change that happens within that person. They go from feeling as if nothing is working, to all things are working. The move from feelings of despair from not being productive to hitting their pillow exhausted, in a good way, from the avalanche of work that has crossed their desk. They go from not being valued on the team, to feeling that their contribution has made all the difference, which essentially motivates them to show up one more day. They benefit, the organization benefits, everyone who comes in contact with that group, business or church, benefits in a positive way. The outcome should be the preferred scenario. The difficulty comes when a manager, leader or owner doesn’t know or have a vision for that preferred scenario. They have lost their vision for the future of the organization. They have become complacent in the day to day tasks, see employees as a problem or liability. The overall culture of the organization is weakened because the leader doesn’t lead, they simply react.

Some of the troubling instances have been when an organization reaches that place where the next steps are not well defined, the leader has had vision leaks or simply doesn’t want to be there any longer and doesn’t have an exit strategy, and employees find themselves wondering why they are there. Thus begins the infighting, the nit-picking, the micro-management, the gossiping, the tattling, the score-keeping, the lack of respect for others, the process of de-valuing the contribution a team member could make, the seemingly isolating and judgmental commentary and a whole host of other cultural and social issues. My guess is no one means to do these things; they are just a byproduct of the lack of leadership, lack of vision and lack of respect for the team and the organization. Hurting people hurt people. How many times have we heard that? Well, to carry on the example, lost people lose connectivity with the team, disgruntled people begin to level the playing field to help themselves feel better, immature team members begin to revert to where they are stuck emotionally and lash out at others from that vantage point, and the pink elephant in the room goes un-talked about, still. This can only force the prediction of the future of the organization: FAIL!

Putting on my consultant hat again, it troubles me to see these things happen. It goes against the grain to see teams perform this way, realizing that not only is the organization hurting, but the team members are hurting more. Ultimately, the leader has to take responsibility. No down-shifting the blame, no pointing out the faults of everyone else, no deflating the spirit of those around you. As well known business authors/speakers have said, everything rises and falls on leadership. Everything. But as long as leaders don’t see the need for change, there’s no need for consultants like me. I’m very effective at pointing out the obvious, reflecting on the state of the organization right now, showing what’s not there that should be, creating clarity where there is none, cleaning up the mess, rewriting the challenges, helping them take the next steps, but ONLY if the leadership desires such. People, who are desperate for change, welcome change. They can be helped; their organization can turn around and they will ultimately succeed.

Getting back to the crossroads: trying to decide if this is what I’m called to do. It truly is what I do well and can get into the fundamental state of thinking over. These days, it seems there is more resistance to making changes than ever before. Preservation of the way things have always been seems to be the norm. The reality is - preserving the wrong things will never lead to the right change required to move forward. It’s difficult for me when I can clearly see what’s not there, what needs to be changed and not be allowed to have some part in the process or input. I guess it all comes back to asking and answering the question of “why do we do what we do?” I have to figure out why I have this propensity to want to do this, to make changes in what I can see is not working. That might take some time. But I have a feeling that it has to do with wanting others to succeed, wanting organizations to thrive and impact others around them, wanting that good feeling of having made a significant contribution to something very worthwhile. Knowing what I want to do and can do seems easy. Knowing where to do it…that’s the challenge. That’s the crossroad.