The times wore heavily on Tim’s face. Like many of us, he feels trapped. He is happy to have a paycheck in this tough economic year. However, his spirit is sapped by the limits placed upon him by the organization. A senior manager, he’s been told, in not so subtle ways, that he needs to pull back his goals. His ideas for improvement are not welcomed at this time and this place.
Given Tim’s significant experience, training and talent, I suggested that other organizations would welcome his creativity and drive, and that he might want to start ‘looking around’. Perhaps a place that is younger, smaller, not so set in its ways. There must be a company that really seeks to evolve, to get to the front of the pack, to build its culture in a pro-active and profitable direction.
“This is the only corporate experience I’ve known,” he told me. Given his lack of other experience, Tim couldn’t imagine that a business exists that would welcome his talents and vision. He could only see that everywhere was like where he was. I was shocked that he was stuck like this. Over the years we’ve worked together, I’ve developed a great respect for Tim’s abilities. But under the current circumstances, he has lost his ‘mojo’. He is trapped by his view of his circumstances, and the nagging self-doubt that has grown from the steady drumbeat of rejection in the job. It’s as though the company learned too well from Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no.”
Tim is the face of a challenge many people, including leaders in organizations are dealing with. In the last six weeks, I’ve heard this pattern from four different people, at various levels, ages, colors and indifferent industries and businesses. When we haven’t seen something else, and haven’t experienced it, we easily fall into a rut. A rut, someone has said, is just a grave with the ends kicked out.
So we give up, and put up, and our talents and excitement wither on the vine. What to do? If you are in this pickle, look for inspiration and encouragement. Talk to people, get out of your box. Use the Internet. In the career management field, we recognize that folks lose sight of their unique gifts, simply because they come easily to them. We forget that there are organizations and people that value what we do, and would be happy to bring us aboard to add competitive advantage to their business. But we forget that.
If you are a leader, you’ll want to pay attention to this phenomenon in your people and find ways to re-engage them. You can ask, “How is our organization throwing a wet blanket on the initiative and creativity of our contributors?” Heck, you can even ask them directly, although they may be shy to answer truthfully. Then work to modify the structures, processes and behaviors that cause the problem.
Is this type of leadership easy? Not always, and not for everyone. Does it pay dividends through increased retention, morale and productivity? You bet it does.