Drop your escape fantasy and lead new ways forward at the top table
The summer break provides an opportunity to review and reflect on next steps at work.
I know that executives often feel frustrated with old ways of thinking in their organisations and some are using the holidays to quietly plot an escape.
Some people make a successful leap to something new but plans can fall drastically short of expectations.
The best leaders are using their frustration to change things. They are radically rethinking their roles and insisting that decision makers become more effective and forward thinking. I work with leaders who are building a new top table based on different values, a stronger sense of purpose and better ways of working.
The dream of escape
Imagining a different life helps people cope in crushing environments. When up to the neck in it at work, the idea of escaping takes the edge off. These daydreams are not deadly serious but are a release valve enabling people to keep going.
It is natural to dream about different options when work starts to feel intolerable. Executives will go quite far down the track in their planning.
“Our youngest finishes school in a couple of years and then we are going to make a big change. I am only 47 and there has to be a life better than this…
Everyone is finger pointing and chasing every cent. The business is making bad decisions. I’m 43, I can’t imagine doing this for another 20 years...”
The most common escape dreams I hear include:
The lifestyle block
Selling up and moving rurally to live on the land.
Part time contracting
Quitting a full time role, downsizing, simplifying and contracting part- time.
Starting a small business
Leaving corporate life and buying a small business or franchise to run with a spouse or a friend. Investing in or creating a startup.
When put to the test, the relief at starting something new is quickly replaced by different challenges and sometimes regret. Inevitably the idea of a less stressful life proves to be more of a fantasy than a reality.
The ride on mower loses its appeal quickly. Lifestyle blocks are hard work and expensive. Rural living can be lonely and insular. People miss the rough and tumble of business and working with dynamic peers. Families spend as much time commuting to schools and shops. Children resent the lack of urban conveniences. Working the land is messy, muddy and requires skills many don’t have. A high percentage of people shifting to lifestyle blocks return to their urban lives within 4 years.
Small businesses, start-ups or part time contracting is equally hard work and can take more time away from families. The financial rewards are less predictable and can cost owners money. Even successful small businesses are very operational with less opportunity to make a bigger difference. Most small business fail within the first two years.
Escapes are a fantasy but the hopes are very real. Held within the each dream are important values and real longings. People crave more from life. They want control and flexibility over their day and more time to connect with family and friends. People want healthier routines, to live closer to nature and to leave stress behind. Most of all, executives want to know they are working on things that matter.
Lead new ways forward instead
People’s hopes are what motivate serious change at work. Leaders are shaping organisations to better reflect what people want from life and work. When executives aren’t waiting to escape they stop accommodating nonsense. I love seeing leaders reengage with work and become more daring. The best leaders are addressing:
Making vitality and wellbeing a priority. Challenging the assumption that executive roles necessitates ridiculous hours. Leaders know that balanced schedules produce more creativity and maintain reslience.
Productivity is maintained and enhanced with flexible work schedules. The best, most balanced leaders are those that embrace their multiple roles. Delivery of outcomes speaks more than being tethered to the desk .
Challenging a singular focus on short term shareholder profit. Making decisions focused on organisations being more sustainable and commercially successful over the long term. Bringing the purpose front and centre of all decision making.
People first and healthy cultures
Investing in people as the primary success strategy and making sure people are treated with respect. Refusing to accept bad behavior and deciding to confront ethical concerns.
Undoubtedly it is a challenge to pioneer this level of change. Executives leading this work need to develop new skills, grow self awareness and they need exceptional support. But I am told by clients that dropping the escape fantasy has been a catalyst for work becoming more meaningful, exciting and satisfying. They get better results. I am also told that re-engaging at work beats muddy gumboots and a pitchfork!
Loretta Brown: Trusted advisor to New Zealand’s most forward thinking leaders