Leaders need to come from a different level of understanding then they may have inherited from the past. They’re coming into the 21st century with the way they think. There’s no other way to change the workplace. It becomes a reflection of the leadership of the company.
Welcome to our interview with Paul David Walker. Paul is the Founder & CEO of Genius Stone Partners, was part of building the first leadership firm to align Strategy, Structure, and Culture, and has been a business leadership adviser to the CEO’s of Fortune 500 and midsize companies for over 30 years. He is the author of Invent Your Future-Starting With Your Calling, Unleashing Genius: Leading Yourself, Teams and Corporations, two other books, and will publish a new book called It Waits For You soon.
Welcome Paul, and thank you for contributing to the questions that are at the heart of the Forward Thinking Workplaces 2.0 conversation.
How can we create workplaces where more voice is heard and matters, people thrive and find meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?
Paul Walker: It starts with the leader, the CEO or whoever is leading the company and their team. You have to get them in a place that they understand that they’re thriving and feeling good about themselves.
Leaders need to come from a different level of understanding than they may have inherited from the past. They’re coming into the 21st century with the way they think. There’s no other way to change the workplace. It becomes a reflection of the leadership of the company.
What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?
Paul: You have to communicate with employees. You have to see and hear them if you will. You have to create a collaborative environment where they feel like they’re part of something bigger themselves, something important. It’s not necessarily the business mission because some company’s business mission are not that noble.
This thing that’s larger than themselves is the team, the ability to provide an income for their family, the relationships they have with one another, and the relationships they have with their leaders.
You’ve got to keep in touch with your employees. You’ve got to stay engaged with the people who work for you and make sure you understand that what’s going on for them both personally and professionally. You have to have a human relationship with people. The relationship doesn’t eclipse the mission, but the mission has to be something they can see and feel—have a visceral sense of it. It’s a way for them to become part of something greater that themselves.
What do people really lack and long for at work?
Paul: I think it’s engagement with something important—relationships with the people around them. The millennials have these new office spaces where it’s like a living room with a coffee shop where everyone hangs out even though might not be in the same company. They’re hanging out with each other while they’re working. I think there’s need more and more, particularly in the younger generation, for a relationship and to feel like they’re doing something important.
It’s all about relationship and connection with people. If they feel connected to you as their leader, if they feel like you care about them, and if you give them a clear picture of the mission—you can’t create what you can’t conceive. If they can’t grasp on a very multi-sensory level what we’re trying to do, there’s going to be confusion. There’s going to be misunderstandings. There’s going to be chaos.
What is the most important question leaders should ask employees?
Paul: I think they need to ask them how they intend to do the things they are doing, mainly the things that are new and beyond their existing capabilities.
It’s important to ask why—people need to understand the why and the mission. Most leaders ask what. I want you to do this and this and this. Most employees will say, “Well, ok, boss” but they may not know how. So later on if they fail, you get into a disciplinary conversation.
The three questions are why, what and how. How do you intend to do this? Then you can start to explore their capabilities whether they know how to do it or not. If they don’t know how then that conversation becomes clearer, then you can help them or find resources to help them learn how.
I think another trait of the millennium generation is they do want to learn. They don’t want to be dictated to, they don’t want to be condescended to, but they want to learn. They are driven by learning.
What’s the most important question employees should ask leaders?
Paul: I think the most important mission is to get clear on what the leader is looking for. If they don’t get a clear picture of the outcome that the leader wants—if it’s not clear to them—they need to have the courage to say, “I’m not quite following what you’re looking for?” And then to initiate a conversation that says, “Here’s how I’m going to do it, does that seem right to you?”
Normally there are multiple groups involved in any problem that has to be solved in the company. Sometimes the leader doesn’t want that. As you know, that shouldn’t be a problem, but you have to take accountability to acquire what the leader’s requirements are and a picture of how to solve the problem.
The employee should be saying to themselves, “I know how to do this, what’s the culture here and how should I do it?” “What are the limits?” “What are the landmines I could step on?” This is an important conversation for the employee to have with their leader.
What is the most important question we should ask ourselves?
Paul: The most important question you can ask yourself is, “Who am I?” Who am I essentially? What are my natural gifts? What is it that I do well and then what are the things that prevent me from being my natural self? What things are mitigating my ability to totally be present and be in the zone like an athlete?
We’re all different. There’s no one self. We are all unique beings. We all have a unique set of social and psychological issues that block that. The most important question is to know who you are.
The second step is to address what blocks it and how do I mitigate the feelings and thoughts that come up?
Is there anything else you’d like to bring up that we haven’t covered in this conversation?
Paul: I think companies do not put enough emphasis on the fact that they are a group or tribe of people trying to accomplish something together. Working together towards an end is a noble mission. Some of the missions are not so noble, nonetheless, working together to achieve something to grow.
A question that often comes up is, do we recommend or do we insist that people grow personally and professionally? We must insist. A company only grows as fast as the leaders and the people in the company. Period.
If you want a company that has growth, everyone on the team has to be growing. That’s obvious in sports! It’s also true in business and life. If you want to grow, if you want to be more successful in your life you’ve got to grow personally. You’ve got to increase your ability to dance with the flow of cause and effect. If you don’t do that, not only will you be unhappy, but you will be ineffective.
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