Channeling my "Inner Hippy" on a Bright & Sunny Day
Who am I kidding? While I may look relaxed and meditative in this photo, there are probably hundreds of things running through my head; a persistent challenge for a sufferer of both ADHD and OCD. More likely, I was thinking of whether the grass would stain my jeans, if there were any biting insects nearby and a host of utterly unrelated topics.
Upon resigning from Silversea Cruises in September of 2016, I committed to a brief sabbatical (aka. very expensive vacation) to "reset", find my “center”, reconnect with loved ones, disconnect from others (smile)...while taking a very deliberate approach to the next move in my career. Fast forward a few months not a single yoga class, which was to help me get fit while learning to clear my head of the incessant clutter. Therefore, I made a more practical New Year’s resolution to simply learn how to “live in the moment". So far so good if reading one chapter of "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle counts. Unless of course my granddaughter is visiting, in which case, I drop anything else I may be working on to climb on furniture with her while pretending to be on some exotic adventure, enjoy her imaginary cooking (although tired of pancakes, which seems to be the only item on her imaginary menu), and essentially destroy the house throughout her visit. While very un-OCD-like of me, it’s worth every precious second when she says, "Oh Papa...I love you. This is so much fun!" while wrapping her arms tightly around my neck. I'm beginning to understand what my mother meant when she would say, "Every parent should get the chance to be a grandparent before starting a family". I used to think she meant the ability to spoil a grandchild but instead, she was describing the amazing joy and satisfaction that comes from “being in the moment” with a grandchild; a challenge for some new parents given the general anxiety/responsibility of parenthood and other daily stresses (work, bills, complicated schedules, etc…).
Meanwhile, I was flattered and humbled by a global network of industry peers for their insight and support on the professional front. I passed up a few interesting opportunities in my pursuit of the right role, in the right company for the right reasons. 49 at the time, and despite being a “Papa”, I firmly believed the best years in my career were ahead of me. I was holding out for a special role that would allow me to leverage unique skills and experiences, hone others, and more importantly...to make a positive contribution to the lives of those around me as well as the organization.
(You can read more about my journey to join Fusion here.)
In my humble opinion, "brand" and "people" are the most valuable assets in any organization (or should be). I often encourage other leaders to focus less on the “passion” for their role or company and more on the “compassion” required to inspire results. As an employer, that means creating a corporate culture that enhances morale, promotes collaboration, values respect, genuinely appreciates diversity (i.e. rethink definitions or preconceived notions of the ideal job candidate), encourages both personal and professional growth, wellness and more…Most important, the company must be willing to allocate “real” resources to the effort to successfully get the entire team aligned within the culture (whereby resources are judged, implemented, prioritized and managed as “investments” or matters of human capital and/or social responsibility versus “expenses” or “commodities”).
I was also seeking an employer who understands, appreciates and supports what friends have described as "Sean's unconventional leadership" (I prefer "creative"...LOL). It's a "principle centered" style, resiliency and persistency that gets the job done in extraordinary ways and that values employees, channel partners, customers, vendors, and others as much as "shareholders". Perhaps this led to the advice I was given early in my career (following an assessment of some type) that I wasn't cut out for "management" (ok...I may be sensationalizing the results or mistaking them for my own conclusions). Throughout my career, however, I've heard several upper management peers lament about "not running a popularity contest", “not being hired to babysit” and that a "straight, narrow, or hardline" management approach comes with the territory (an otherwise conscious or unconscious surrender to “management by intimidation”). I responded to those peers the same way I responded to the human resources professional who conducted the leadership assessment many years before by stating my belief that respect, kindness, consideration, compassion, success, productivity, profit and even some of the less pleasant aspects of management like disciplinary action, termination, downsizing, etc…are NOT mutually exclusive. To the HR person, I continued by saying that if I was mistaken, I would choose another career path. Responding to my peers has proven a little trickier.
Newsflash…not everyone is open to feedback or coaching, no matter how constructive. Those of you who know me well will attest to my “lack of filters”. I typically wear my heart on my sleeve and have little difficulty sharing the good, bad and ugly pieces of my personal or professional life. It’s simply the way I’m wired. I think it’s for this reason that I value feedback and often encourage others to challenge my point of view. I frequently solicit feedback and consider it a “gift”. Depending on the circumstance, I might choose to disregard it, put it on a back shelf to process and/or digest later, or learn from it. I’m also capable of having a rational conversation about virtually anything, no matter how controversial. For instance, I had a chat with a friend about what compelled him to vote for Donald Trump. I respected his point of view and admired his conviction. When confronted by someone who is otherwise incapable of a rational conversation, I’ll quickly change the subject after saying something like, “Hmmm? That’s an interesting point of view.”
I’ve had productive dialogues with my peers about the management philosophy I shared above (which I hope to make my doctoral thesis and/or publish someday). I’ve heard my belief described many ways (some kind and some not so kind). The feedback often varied by generation, culture, and gender among others. Many shared very valid points of view that underscored the need to clarify several things. First and foremost, my belief is in no way an indictment of other managers or organizations who either disagree with me or endorse other systems that have contributed to their success. I believe most employers act out of genuine concern for their employees. The philosophical difference (or “healthy tension”) occurs when comparing employer/employee definitions of success, their motives and plans (i.e. what the woman in the corner office defines as a system of “checks and balances” is referred to as “sales prevention, red tape or bureaucracy” by others). I also don’t presume to judge or malign an employer or manager justifiably motivated by profits, cost controls, shareholder value/dividends, liability or any other valid and ethical business objective. I never profess to have all the answers nor to be perfect in any way. Just ask my family, friends and colleagues about my many “idiosyncrasies” (a polite way to describe my “issues”).
I consider myself a “lifelong learner” who is curious by nature, committed to making informed decisions, and constantly “assessing” (aware of avoiding the same old techniques, strategies, etc…to produce the same old results). Although I’ve enjoyed a productive career to date, I’ve made many mistakes along the way. I’m often asked to what I attribute my success when lecturing college students or speaking at an industry event. I begin my response by acknowledging there is no one “recipe” for success and that in my case, it took some luck (right place at the right time), networking (who you know vs. what you know), humility (characterized by treating others how I wish to be treated), and an insatiable appetite to engage and learn from “everyone” around me…from the mailman, janitor and subordinates to my colleagues, supervisor and anyone willing to tolerate my curiosity. I think this combination contributes to what others have described as an “aura” connecting me with toddlers, animals and people in exceptional ways…like the stranger I met in Walmart who asked my help to find mayonnaise and continued to tell me about her recent divorce, daughter undergoing drug rehabilitation, etc…and an endless number of similar encounters.
Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to meet others that are much smarter, articulate, creative, and hardworking than me. I’ve also endured some awful working relationships and “chose” to learn from them as well (rather than give them power to negatively influence my attitude, behavior or performance). The greatest factor in my success, however, is an intimate “self-awareness” possessed of the courage to “own” and mitigate my weaknesses…clearing the way for true professional or personal growth and development. An unforeseen benefit of which, is the ability to connect with others more meaningfully by accepting and/or forgiving their transgressions, and collaborating to address them…which, leads back to the “Defy the Dogma” dialogue with some peers.
The greatest detractors interpret it as being either passive, reactive, impractical, unrealistic and/or indulgent. They also point out the success or productivity they’ve achieved in more “conventional” ways. My contention is that the approach is far from passive, etc…and most attempts to characterize it as such are typically the product of the current work environment or culture within the company. More important, despite the benefits of short term gains resulting from conventional approaches, exponential growth and success can only occur when an organization commits to truly “engage” its employees, dealers, distributors, customers, etc…Having spent most of my career in the incentive travel industry, I’ve benefitted from the “collateral learning” that occurs from working closely with the “performance improvement and customer loyalty” or Fortune 1000 partners I serve. Numerous studies demonstrate the long-term benefits of effective “engagement” strategies, the least of which is an “emotional connection” to the team, company, product, service, etc…contributing to “incremental” results (the exponential support, sales and opportunities I mentioned earlier that are potentially neglected/unrealized in more conventional business cultures).
Furthermore, I believe the sentiments shared by some detractors to be influenced (perhaps unintentionally) by rapidly evolving business environments. Compelled by increasing global competition, economic, geopolitical and other factors…managers are now required to wear more hats, function more autonomously, supervise more people, provide new or innovative products/services, and grow returns while budgets and other resources are diminishing. Consequently, a “one size fits all” or “black and white” approach to employee engagement often prevails over the “high touch” and customized approach to which I subscribe. This is perhaps the greatest single argument for the need to make employee engagement a priority, particularly in a service driven economy. While “change” remains the only “constant” in the foreseeable future…planning and forecasting business models grow increasingly obsolete.
A few courageous and “dogma defying” corporations have already figured it out. They start by creating a work environment and culture to attract and retain talented employees. They rely less on institutional and conventional job criteria or skill sets and rely more on criteria to identify less traditional but infinitely more remarkable candidates possessing a unique “mind set” (vs. “skill set”), lifestyle, attitude, perspective, opinion, interests, aspirations, etc…They actively recruit the best candidates (not the best available). Then make them an asset by “treating them like one” and increasing the overall “intellectual capital” within the company. Products and service may distinguish one company from another…but the right, engaged and highly motivated “people” will embrace and champion the vision, creativity, plans, processes, systems, infrastructure, etc…resulting in “extraordinary” results.