It is the lament of many an entrepreneur or executive leader and at VIM Executive Coaching we’ve heard it dozens of times. It usually goes like this:
“I joined my company about 9 years ago. Things were really good then and we all got along and sales were rocking. I don’t know when it all turned sour, but it’s not like it was in those days and I’m not happy where it’s going.”
I am sure you have heard similar comments. Indeed, I have compared a few notes about the good old days with some executive leaders who reflected back with a certain amount of honesty. I’d like to share a few notes with you. Mind you, every one of these “admissions” were preceded with, “well, things aren’t as good now as when I joined.”
An executive leader had to admit that the women in his company were being treated badly “back then,” that harassment – and worse, were the order of the day.
An entrepreneur for a large flooring company explained that in “the good old days” the flooring did not measure up to government required specifications but they sold it anyway.
There was the executive leader who admitted that when he joined the company there were unwritten policies that made it tougher for minorities, Jews, Muslims, gays and people with disabilities to get hired.
An executive for a natural sweetener promotional board reflected that certain member companies were adulterating their product with corn syrup and maltose. How long did this go on? At least 20 years!
Reflecting on those Good Old Days
If you are an executive leader or an entrepreneur who longs for the “Good Old Days,” perhaps an important question that first needs to be asked is: “Why were they good?” Obviously, if sales were booming because the product or service was unique, then that might account for some of the optimism and cheer. If sales declined solely because of a failure of the company to innovate then that is an internal flaw over which business coaching may (or may not be) of use.
However, if sales were booming because the organization was cutting corners or engaging in unfair business practices or bribery or selling shoddy product, then sales may not have been so good after all. Sales may have been good because profits increased as the result of unfair policies and procedures.
Going a bit further, if by the “Good Old Days” meant the office environment was reactive and confrontational, or suppressed expression or was intentionally unkind to women and minorities, then there were serious executive leadership issues that no one in a responsible role wanted to address.
One of the foundational principles at VIM Executive Coaching is to encourage mindfulness in organizations. This is closely linked to authenticity in executive leadership and in all things. If we are mindful, we can clearly see in the moment, what is positive or negative, what is right or wrong. With some of the examples expressed, the “Good Old Days” we imagined were really not good at all – in fact, they were downright terrible. They would not have been so good then, and certainly not so good now. In organizations where we long for a past that was not so good when measured by any parameter, there is something inherently wrong and it leads to the concept of authenticity.
Being Authentic to be Real
As executive leaders who have been coached to be mindful, we can clearly see and intentionally respond to problems in our organizations. Clearly (using the examples stated earlier), if we are executive leaders in an organization where there is bigotry of any kind, employee strife, intentionally poor product being sold, harassment and misrepresentation we could reflect on that and understand there were major problems. To claim we are mindful and to disregard unethical behaviors is to be inauthentic.
As authentic leaders, it would be impossible have an environment of harassment or bias or poor business practices without acknowledging there are serious issues affecting employees. We have the option of responding to major employee concerns either authentically or to dismiss them with a wave of the hand reaction. In any case, we should never look back on the “Good Old Days” with blinders on our eyes. If we are real and authentic we must see things for exactly the way they are.