May 28, 2019
Audience Engagement

The Corporate Social Responsibility of Executive Leaders

Why The C-Suite Should Embrace, Not Discourage, Vulnerability

There are countless unique styles of leadership, some more effective than others. It can be incredibly difficult to draw certain lines, especially for executives who’ve risen in the company ranks. At what point does a person stop being a “colleague” and become a “boss”? Even at the senior level, you’re still working with others, collaborating, valuing each other’s inputs.

Where do the walls go up? How do you create a relationship that’s mutually respectful while still recognizing seniority? The nuances of becoming a leader can be so tricky that many people ultimately opt for what feels like the safest solution: No emotions.

The only permissible emotions are related to work itself: Excitement over meeting a goal, distress over a deal gone bad, nervousness over a high-stakes meeting. It’s restricting, but for many leaders, that’s what feels most comfortable. But sometimes comfort is a cripple.

When we sat down with Matt Emerzian, founder and CEO of Every Monday Matters, we were taken by how candid he was about his own humanity. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, since the crux of his nonprofit is about truthfulness and authenticity.

Even so, it’s rare to hear a CEO open up about his own history with depression and anxiety, and that makes it all the more powerful. And it’s incredibly important for employees to hear. Should you spill your life story to anyone in earshot? Of course not. Balance is key, and Matt demonstrates that perfectly.

Bosses Gain Trust When They Display Vulnerability

Without going into detail, he recalled being “exposed to this other side of life that’s a little darker and scarier, more real. What it did for me is it brought this awareness and empathy and compassion in me.” The fact is, he continued, “there are so many people out there, going through stuff. We all have our stuff.”

You likely can’t sit down one-on-one with each of your employees and do an emotional deep-dive -- and that’s perfectly okay. Innovations like digital signage allow employees of all experience levels to reflect, both privately and with peers, on their own humanity and that of their co-workers. It’s important to show employees that, from a senior level, you recognize them as real, individual people, not numbers on a spreadsheet.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing to help [your employees] grow as people? And as they grew, they could change their families and their communities?” Matt said. “That’s the opportunity you’re sitting on. You have access to all these lives you can change if you just embrace that honor.”

Workplaces Succeed When Leaders Share Ideas and Credit

When we sat down for our latest Business Impact Workshop, it was for a conversation with someone who perpetually avoids the word “I.”

For David Akridge, the Chief Information Officer of Mobile County Public School District, every accomplishment is attributed to “we.” Even ideas that originated in his mind and were executed under his leadership are always, without fail, a team win.

It’s a habit he didn’t even seem aware of, and when we pointed it out, he once again gave credit elsewhere. This time, it was to his father: “When I took the job here, he said, when you’re working … you’re hired to work under the boss and make their vision come true,” Akridge said. “You don’t worry about getting in the spotlight.”

Business is competitive. And, in turn, it attracts people who thrive on competition -- people who want to build the best product and bring the most profit. It’s only natural that so many business leaders have an ego. They’re creating a brand, and more often than not, they want their own names weaved into it.

Great Leaders Don’t Avoid the Spotlight- They Take Blame, Too.

But what Akridge has found, and it will come as no surprise to those who’ve worked in truly collaborative, supportive environments, is that sharing credit isn’t just about keeping egos in check. Sharing credit is a long-term investment in your team.

To be clear, there are times when it’s not only appropriate but completely necessary to highlight individual accomplishments. To attribute every last success to a team effort, when in fact some were the result of just a few people’s labor, is unfair to the people who put in that extra time and energy.

Akridge’s outlook is more so a perspective on effective leadership. He cites football coaches as a prime example. “You watch any good football coach, when things are going well, it’s all about the players,” he said. “And when they lose, the coach is the first one to take responsibility. That’s how it should be.”

Shared Credit is Especially Important for Goal-Oriented Projects

When an entire team shares a goal, each employee is doing their part to reach the finish line. At times, it may look like some people are pulling more weight than others. But as a leader, it’s important to recognize every last effort.

What does that look like in practice? Here’s an example. Think about a receptionist who handles front-desk calls while senior-level staffers are in a meeting. That meeting is perhaps where the details of a new project are hashed out. But over at his or her desk, the receptionist is doing their own individual part to keep everybody focused and on task.

In turn, when that project is finally completed, a great leader will recognize every person who played a part -- even those who, to continue that football analogy from earlier, were second-string. If you’re a leader, your employees already know your name. There’s no need to keep repeating it. The real task is proving that you know their names, and their jobs, and their efforts.

You should be proud when your company achieves a goal. But that pride will feel even better when it’s shared equally. And when your employees feel valued, supported and thanked, there’s only more pride to come down the road.

Leaders Have a Corporate Social Responsibility

Sit with that word for a moment: Honor. Matt uses it in exchange for the phrase “corporate social responsibility,” or the idea that you have a nagging obligation to “be good.”

“I don’t see it as a responsibility. It’s a privilege,” he said. “That should be such a high priority. If you help them achieve that, your company is going to thrive, and the world’s gonna thrive.”Yes, your employees have a job to do, and so do you. But that doesn’t make any of us less human. We’re all looking for a sense of connection and purpose.

By encouraging an appropriate amount of personal vulnerability, you’re improving your staff, your business and life beyond the office walls. Now, Industry Weapon customers can take advantage of daily content provided by the EMM team when they are enrolled in our complimentary Employee Retention Content Program. Get your Every Monday Matters content! 

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