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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Question To A President

Times like this can easily take the wind out of your sails. For me, the potentially worst part is that you get into this mindset where you begin to believe that just about anything negative that happens to you at work is somehow now acceptable because "at least you have a job".

I was at an all day conference yesterday where the keynote speaker was the president of the division of the firm for which I work (gosh, that last phrase was really, really difficult to write). Anyway, her brief talk was about personal leadership, and after about 25 minutes she opened the session up to questions & answers. All of the questions asked up to just about the end had to do with issues other than leadership, so for reasons that I can't really understand, I felt compelled to ask a question that was "on topic". It went something like this...

"Chris, in times like this, where associates have worries about employment, declining savings, etc., the cheap and easy way to motivate people is to say something like 'at least you still have a job'; knowing that the cheap and easy way to motivate people isn't really effective over the long run, what recommendations do you have for motivating people in tough times?."

Regarding her answer, I'll first say that I don't think she was comfortable with the question. Thankfully in the grand scheme of things I am a nobody, so I highly doubt there will be any "why did Albert ask that question" fallout. Anyway, in her answer she talked about what motivates her as a person and leader, but in all candor, I can't say that she really answered my question about how to motivate others. Why? I honestly don't think she actually thinks about it. As is typical for senior "strategic" people, she's good when it comes to esoteric things like long-term market strategy, but less so when it comes down to the nut-n-bolts of facing people in tough times. In her defense, I don't think any of us are good at that sort of thing, but that's why I asked the question in the first place and that's why she makes my salary multiplied by twenty (or something like that).

Now the above may sound overly harsh, but it's not meant to be in the least. I simply don't think she has capability to think "down" to a level where someone actually has economic and career worries to the extent that an average person does. Sure, at a senior level you can find yourself unemployed, but at a high salary & lots of prior titles, you an always live off of savings/investments and hire a headhunter to help you find a job if the worst should happen. What's more, wealthy executives usually have spouses with professional/well paying jobs as well, so that's also a mitigating factor. That's certainly not true for the average worker, of which I consider myself to be in large part.

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