Last Tuesday night, the nation witnessed the most stunning political victory in recent history as Donald Trump unseated odds-on favorite, Hillary Clinton, for the presidency. At the same time, Trump’s triumph cleaved a centuries-deep fissure of pain and fear into the American psyche.
My mother was an elegant woman who never went out in public without looking very pulled together. Her hair was always well-coiffed, her clothes properly tailored and suited for her petite frame, and her youthful face was stark in its contrast to the date of birth listed on her passport. “If you want to look good ten years from now,” she said, “you’d better get started on that today.” Many years later I realized that my mother’s advice applies to both life and business.
I had the privilege of attending a client holiday party last week that didn’t turn out as I expected. Like most office parties, there was the usual coterie of festive revelers who made a few too many trips to the punch bowl. But no one got so out of control that they reenacted the iconic party scene from Seinfeld where Elaine breaks into a dance that makes you wonder if what you’re witnessing is really a seizure instead.
While making a mad dash to board an airport train last week, I ran into Stephen —literally ran into him — as we both jockeyed to squeeze ourselves in among the other harried travelers. We had not seen each other since our days as middle managers when we both worked for the same large multinational firm. Stephen was incredibly fun back in those days, as well as ambitious, hard working and among the most brilliant men I knew.
Through years of consulting to many organizations, I’ve been blessed to work with wonderful, accomplished leaders — individuals who are deeply in touch with who they are, and are focused on bringing the best of their skills, talents and passions to leading others. They view leading as both a privilege and a responsibility, one that surpasses any other role they may have in their organization. At the same time, these gifted leaders are strongly committed to the business of growing the business, as they should be. They recognize that being an effective leader while holding a position of excellence in the market are not mutually exclusive objectives.
A scathing article about Amazon was recently published in the New York Times describing disturbing allegations about the retailer’s abusive work environment. Lending significant credibility to the serious questions raised about the company’s culture were corroborating interviews from many of the more than 100 current or previous Amazon employees who agreed to speak on record. Stories of unfair practices abound, from unjust co-worker complaints sent directly to a colleague’s boss, to an individual who was chastised for not being able to work nights and weekends because she was caring for her dying father. The $250 billion retailer is eclipsing its competition for sure, but it may be compromising its own leadership principles in the process of doing so.
There is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of that moment when you’re first awarded an important leadership role. Having “finally arrived” you imagine yourself as the rock star taking center stage at a roaring stadium of adoring fans. You can almost hear the ear shattering cheers of the crowd as they clamor to get closer, iPhones in hand, ready for the chance to take a cherished selfie and bask in your celebrity. The congratulatory comments and notes follow soon after, as do the handshakes, hugs and backslaps of colleagues, some of who may be actually be truly happy for your success. But, after repeatedly playing this movie in your head, (in which your performance in the leading role is, of course, Oscar worthy) at some point you come face to face with the enormity of your responsibility to others. Grand titles and big salary aside, the burning issue now is how you’ll show up as a leader and what legacy you’ll leave behind.