We were on a vacation not long ago, when we happened to meet a lovely couple at a large dinner party. I introduced myself as the founder of VIM Executive Coaching and casually asked him what he did for a living. He replied that he had just left his company.
“I’m retired,” he said. “I had enough of the corporate workplace and enough of the politics.”
To keep the conversation light and easy, I told him that he must have been quite successful to have retired so young. He could not have been much more than 45. I looked across at his spouse, her brilliant smile flashed a bit of uneasiness.
Without my prompting him, he expanded his comments and explained that in his opinion the corporate culture was undergoing a rapid change that frightened him. No one seemed to want to work, people relied on technology rather than each other and that Millennials could not get along with one another and resented anything that had the appearance of authority. He didn’t know what he was going to do.
“Maybe I’ll buy a car wash and collect quarters,” he laughed.
“Did you enjoy your work?” I asked.
He shared that he had loved his industry and a few of his co-workers, but he didn’t want to keel over from the stress of working with entitled babies and pompous executives. We quickly moved onto other topics.
Throwing in Towels
I had heard all of these types of complaints before. VIM Executive Coaching has worked with many executive leaders and high-powered entrepreneurs trying to navigate the ever-changing world of managing people. While executives are constantly complaining that managing has never been more difficult, we don’t quite see it that way.
Without commenting to the younger, newly retired executive any further (other than the weather or the delicious food!), I could not help but to think how sad it was that he had loved his job and his industry – and then left. It is not possible to calculate the great number of executives who walked away from executive or entrepreneurial positions.
The secret to staying on top of the changing workplace environment is not hidden in some futuristic piece of software found on the cloud or an app available for $4.99 on the app store! In fact, I would submit that the key piece of management wisdom cannot be bought and downloaded at all, but carefully and preciously practiced and cultivated.
Remarkably, the most effective management techniques are not new, but ancient. They are not effectively studied on-line but in quiet and calm settings. No matter how seemingly sophisticated and even far-flung organizational environments have become, it is the technique of mindfulness meditation that has proven so effective. It is also learning to respond and not react to people’s needs and their problems that enables managers and entrepreneurs, older and younger to wisely lead in all sorts of settings.
The important element of effective leadership in this age is to strive to be present and in the moment. To listen and reflect without precondition or bias. To see all points of view and to honestly and openly discuss the issues at hand.
In the Moment
It was impossible for me to determine from the brief discussion with the “retired” executive to determine the depth of his problems in terms of dealing with subordinates and those above him. I will make a guess from having worked with many other executives and entrepreneurs in numerous corporate settings that he had not been trained in working in the moment. He was never taught techniques of really listening to what people were saying and how they were relating to one another.
While it is true that with the shift from “Boomer” to “Gen-X” to “Millennial” workplaces, and of course, the mixture of those cultures that things have changed, basic human needs and desires for success have not. We all seek a feeling of accomplishment and appreciation no matter our ages. We all desire success in our lives and a sense of making our lives worthwhile.
Yes, the culture has changed, but basic human needs have not. The executive leader would be wise to understand that while the tools of organizations have changed, human needs have not. I wish I could have worked with that person across the table from me at that dinner party. He will find that counting quarters and filling vending machines with windshield cleaning towels is not all it is cracked up to be!