Much of my work centres on enhancing and leveraging the meaning that my clients derive from their work – both individually and organisationally.
It is too easy in the modern economy to focus on anaemic ‘value adding’ and ‘shareholder value’ without focusing on the meaningfulness of the work one actually performs.
One of my clients, CEO of a major publicly listed company with over $250 million annual revenue, found himself trapped in a situation where the board and shareholders were focused on maximising shareholder value. He confided to me that share prices had risen 10-fold since his appointment and that he was regarded therefore as a superstar, but that analytically it was a mystery to him why the share price had risen so high. It was equally a mystery why the share price had dropped so low before his tenure, excepting that market ‘confidence’ was the prime reason and that there were problems with the management of the company. I noted that it was equally market confidence in his ability that had led to the share price rise, but we agreed that this would be unsustainable.
One of the key problems was that the short-sighted ‘shareholder value’ view did not focus on the organisation’s central mission for its clients. And that meant that they weren’t doing what they needed to in their management, long-range planning and capacity-building to ensure that they were competitively placed in the market and ensuring growth. He knew there was so much that needed to be changed and he was the man to do it. Unfortunately, it was the board that suffered from a lack of strategic and operational courage and blocked him left, right and centre and reacted spontaneously with panic to market forces, undermining his role as the CEO.
To cut a long story short, I suspected that his frustration – and the board’s intransigence – might lead to his departure from the position. Sure enough, just a couple of months after we ceased working together on a major presentation, he decided while on vacation that he’d had enough of this game. It wasn’t what he wanted for himself, his family, or his career. Financially, he was wealthy enough to never ‘work’ another day in his life and still have a lot left over. He wasn’t in it for the money. Never had been. He was in the game to do something meaningful in an industry that he loved.
Therefore, he quit and a short while afterwards started a new company under his banner. Within a few months, many in the industry he served flocked to his company because they knew that his name meant high value, quality product and service. They trusted him, because he sought the intrinsic meaning and value from his work, as did those who came to work with him.
A couple of years later, his new company continues to do well. He puts in the effort where he wants and has a team of people delivering great value for their clients. And they have an outstanding, high value enterprise that benefits everyone with ‘value’. It’s just not listed on the speculative, mystery-laden, confidence-swindling, hedge-funding stock exchange dominated by ‘numbers men’ who don’t understand the inherent value of the enterprise.
The public company for which he was CEO never did revert to building the right management and quality and has become a sad byword in the industry as it slowly dwindles away. It currently has revenue less than a third of that from just a few short years ago and is engaged in a protracted asset sell-off as it loses more and more capability and more and more contracts due to poor execution. Its share price has to be measured in decimal points – a mere fraction of the value it once held.
Steve Jobs famously demonstrated time and again that ‘maximising shareholder value’ was not his focus – it was creating great tech that people loved. And he and his team at Apple built a fabulous global company that certainly has delivered tremendous shareholder value.
Too many CEOs don’t take that approach and wonder why their lives and the execs around them are shallow and deprived of meaning. It is through their external lives – not their companies – that they find meaning, if at all.
It’s past time for those CEOs to look to find the inherent meaning and value in their work. Focus on the customer. Focus on your people. Focus on a great industry with exciting product and innovations, the joy of creation and the delight of winning at your work. Focus on using your gifts & talents and those of your people to achieve something worthwhile – and profitable. But don’t focus on the $$ above all else. Down that path lies moral and spiritual destitution, depression and despair.
Whilst it is difficult for CEOs and Boards, particularly those publicly listed, to focus on the meaning of what they are doing, it is essential. It requires courage. But it has never been denied that great leadership does not want for courage.
You can find the meaning in your work, but you need to take the time, the effort and the counsel to do so. I’ve made it a speciality to do so in all my work, as have many people I have worked alongside throughout differing careers. I’ve had the pleasure of helping and coaching people in finding theirs. It is not only feasible, it is entirely possible and practical to do so. The result is exhilarating and liberating.
Whether you are a CEO, a chief executive, a business owner, or a poor ‘shmuck’ on the bottom of the totem pole, you can find meaning. Give it a try.
How have you found meaning in your work? What value has that added to you, those you serve and your organisation? LEAVE A COMMENT.
If you would like to become the best leader, team or organisation you can be, Get in Touch for our world class consulting, coaching, development and speaking services. You can also subscribe to one of our online video series at www.lamplighter.com.au/viewStory/Video+Seminars or avail yourself of our other resources to help you grow and succeed.
Copyright 2013 Peter J. McLean. http://www.lamplighter.com.au, http://www.authenticspeaking.com.au and http://theleadershiplamplight.com