The Sacrifice Syndrome

Executives are not machines or super humans.

Being busy can be addictive. Running high on “positive stress” can also bring the short term fix that many business leaders truly enjoy. The adrenaline rushes through your system when you win a deal, have a successful meeting, or accomplish a great task. Success is highly rewarding especially in the business world.

There is, however, a limit to how much stress you and your body can absorb, process and evacuate out of the system. Staying busy and being on constant over-drive can lead to high level of fatigue, health breakdowns and erosion of the positive energy you might project. That is what Dr. Richard Boyatzis call the “sacrifice syndrome”. Once you are caught in the loop of addictive stress drive, it is difficult to get out of it and it can become sacrificial. The worse part of it is that top leaders encourage this type of behavior and that HR department tolerate it.

Zombie ExecutiveThey ask executives for more. They demand or tolerate week end traveling, time away from family and friends, and a constant level of high performance. I have worked for leaders who actually believe that, the higher they got in the organization, the greater amount of work they should do. One of them would say: “We are executives and we are expected to fly on the week end and work until midnight”. Another would not be satisfied if he did not have a 14 hour work day every day. He would say: “ I have to show my people that I work hard and long hours”.

The result was long hours in useless management meetings just because that is what top executives are expected to do. This is total nonsense. I conjecture that this type of approach is actually destructive for businesses and for team performance. Executives are not machines or super humans. They need quality time to resources with their families and free time at night after a long work day.

I also believe that two weeks of vacation per year is not enough to maintain a good work/life balance and to do an outstanding job loving a family. Who came up with this idea? Do you really think you can relax, get resourced, take care of your family, and maintain hobbies with only two weeks off per year? Think again.

The Power of Words

Words are powerful. They carry the meaning of our thoughts, our opinions and sometimes our emotions. Words get written down, printed, translated, communicated, tweeted, and much more. Do you pay close attention to how you select the words you use day in and day out? Do you actively engage in learning new words and their meaning to carry more powerful messages? If you read the literature on communication, more attention is paid on the concept of listening. Leaders are good listeners. They engage in active and purposeful listening of their people. But what about speaking and using the right words for the right situation?

…this is why I like using Twitter. You have to express your message in 140 characters and it forces you to select your words carefully.

Speaking and selecting words might seem mechanical. We seem to be using what the brain might send in a nano second to express ourselves. I found myself in situations where I actually was not at all paying attention to the words I used. You then realize the impact that words may have on your audience especially when you are a leader giving feedback to others or communicating difficult news to an organization.

In a way, this is why I like using Twitter. You have to express your message in 140 characters and it forces you to select your words carefully. I did the same exercise when conducting performance reviews and giving personal coaching. Paying close attention to the words that you use shows intention and gives strength to the message you are delivering. Like you would do in an active listening exercise, conduct a coaching session carefully selecting your words and delivering an impactful message while looking the recipient in the eyes. You will notice a huge difference in the level of attention, connection and receptiveness.

Actively listening is important. Actively speaking with the right words is equally critical. L’amour des mots!

The Myth of Industry Experience

Please read all the job postings out there for leadership positions and you will find that most companies have fallen into the “industry experience” trap. Some companies and their leaders are absolutely obsessed by industry experience as a critical requirement for any leadership position. So they go out and search “clones” in their industry without realizing the potential pitfalls of such an approach. I am not saying industry experience is not important. That might help incoming leaders get up to speed quickly and might generate some short term impact. But above all, I see this as an isomorphic approach that will reduce uncertainty in hiring managers and create comfort with the team reporting to that leader. So in essence, you might not experience the “OMG, he has no industry experience” or “it will take forever to learn our business”.

…if you work in heavy industry goods, bringing in an outstanding leader with service industry experience might generate the necessary boost in breakthrough and creative thinking.

My opinion is that leadership experience is a much more critical job requirement than industry experience. The first one is a must-have while the second one is a nice-to-have! I actually go one step further and conjecture that a strong and charismatic leader might be able to run any type of business without having specific industry experience. A strong leader will surround herself or himself with the best team, will ask the right questions, and create a strong team culture. That leader will build a strong strategic vision that will inspire teams and will focus on the right long term goals. In my career, I was able to lead teams of civil engineers, chemical engineers and other highly specialized industry experts without having specific industry experience. I was in charge of developing a bullet-proof strategy and made sure I was the Chief Energizing Officer!

The myth still exists out there and it is even stronger in industrial markets. Industry experience is a nice-to-have leadership dimension. I think that, most of the time, hiring leaders with strong industry experience reinforces industry recipes, encourages mimic behaviors within the industry, and impedes creative leadership outside industry boundaries. So in other words, if you work in heavy industry goods, bringing in an outstanding leader with service industry experience might generate the necessary boost in breakthrough and creative thinking. But if you bring someone from competition or from the traditional industry networks, you might experience much of the same. There is no right or wrong in this matter. I realize I have no data supporting my claim. That might be a good academic study to conduct.

Customer Experience

Traditional retail chains are fighting for their survival. They are facing a disruptive shift in how consumers purchase products and go about the decision-making process. No doubt, the name of the game has changed.

Brick and mortar retail chains will have to adapt, create unique differentiation or die. Recently, much has been written on the slow death of book stores and the heavy fight that Best Buy is putting against Amazon and other online electronics retailers. I am not sure though that they are fully getting it.

The one-click payment process of Amazon is certainly fast but spending 10 minutes to process my credit card in a store is certainly a breakdown in efficiency. WalletSecure Online Payment

Last week, I wanted to buy a TV for my son. Because I had been writing so much about retail pricing, I wanted to pay a visit to Best Buy and shop. I must admit that the Best Buy experience has gotten better. The store has a much better atmosphere, a lot of more lighting and colors, and well trained retail professionals. I enjoyed my experience until I got to the payment station. I was faced with card payment systems from the 1990’s. It literally took five swipes before we stopped trying.

The person behind the counter had to enter my card information manually. I still had to sign on that awful, outdated and beat-up payment terminal. It took me 10 minutes to get in the store, pick the TV, and walk to the payment station. It took another 10 minutes for me to pay. I could have bought that same TV on Amazon in literally 30 seconds maximum.

So I am not convinced Best Buy has fully mapped out the customer experience. The one-click payment process of Amazon is certainly fast but spending 10 minutes to process my credit card in a store is certainly a breakdown in efficiency.

How long will it take for Best Buy to upgrade and realize that paying for goods should not take that long? As they fight on many fronts against giant online stores, they have to pay much more attention to details. Details are critical to create an amazing and flawless customer experience. I hope someone from Best Buy is paying attention.

Work/Life Balance

You only live once. You only see your kids grow once. You cannot take back the years. Take a minute out of your business schedule and reflect on that. How much running are you doing? How much juggling can you handle? We all have been there. We run and we drive and we stress. A lot of this is dictated by how much complexity and workload we have injected in our professional and personal lives. But also some of that is due to a pattern that we create for ourselves. At times, we find ourselves creating additional work, taking the additional trip, and checking emails on week end without any reasons. By working hard and not having a healthy work/life balance, we fall into the pattern of stress that might strongly impact our level of happiness and performance.

keynoteNow that I have left the corporate world, I have taken the time to reflect and analyze where the constant drive I have had for the past 20 years comes from. There is the drive for success, recognition, monetary rewards and just plain pleasure of the adrenaline boosts. I have also realized how much destruction I have done on my personal life by not having this work/life balanced approach. The last 20 years have been gratifying in many respects. I have achieved all my wildest expectations on the professional side. But I am now faced with a need to rebuild my personal side by understanding what I want in life, mindfully focusing on my son, and breaking down all the engrained professional patterns. It is hard to stop being driven when there is no reason for it at all.

So how do you adopt a more mindful and balance work/life approach if you are already going 100 miles per hour? It starts with a realization that there is more to life than work. There is need to slow down and smell the roses. You can do this by creating a vision of what you want to accomplish in life both on the personal and professional sides. Then you establish some strong boundaries between the two sides of your life and enjoy both equally. There is not easy way to do this. Pay attention to the impact of constant stress. Slow down and love life for a minute!


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