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December 29, 2010

Leadership In the Spotlight: It Doesn't Have to Be Lonely At the Top, But Corporate Leaders Do Need to Be Actively Engaged — Or Risk Breeding Executive Malaise

By Jim Bain, Founder, Focus on the 5

It's been said that it's lonely at the top. But it doesn't have to be. Even the Lone Ranger wasn't alone. He had Tonto. Alexander Graham Bell had Watson. And Thomas Edison had William Hammer. So why is it that so many executives today feel so alone and disengaged?

According to a recent Gallup Management Journal (GMJ) survey of U.S. workers, there are three types of employees: engaged, not-engaged, and actively disengaged. The survey reported that 29% of the respondents were engaged, working with a passion and feeling a profound connection to their company. The not-engaged group, those who have mentally "checked out" of their jobs, made up 56% of the respondents. The remaining 15% are actively disengaged, not only unhappy at work but acting out their unhappiness and undermining what their more engaged co-workers are trying to accomplish.

Maybe even more surprising, the study found that the actively disengaged group includes as much as 10% of executive level employees. The Gallup study showed further that engaged employees are both more productive and more profitable. They tend to stay with their companies longer, are safer, and develop better relationships with the company's customers. It follows then, that actively disengaged employees are the "one bad apple" effectively spoiling the whole bunch. And, the effects are even more devastating if that bad apple is the person sitting in the executive suite.

What has happened here? Why are so many executives unhappy at work? Experience with unhappy people tells us that, very often, their unhappiness is a result of feeling as if something in their lives is out of control. While each individual case will vary, finding the part of your life that is not in control, not in balance, will help you to become more comfortable with your entire life.

Will Rogers once said that "if you're riding ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then and make sure it's still there." Most top-level executives recognize that they didn't get to the top by themselves. He's like the turtle on the fencepost. He doesn't know how he got there. He just knows he had help.

Here are some tips to find a little more peace in the corner office.

1. Recognize that no one works "for" you. They may work for themselves, they may work for their family, or they may work for your customers, but they don't work "for" you. They work "with" you. Developing a sense of team, shared responsibility for success, and shared accountability for non-success, will go a long way to make you a trusted part of the team again.

2. Develop a culture of caring. Make friends at work. Find your "Tonto." The Gallup survey showed that fully 76% of engaged employees strongly agreed with the statement "I have a friend at work who I share new ideas with." It doesn't matter what your position is in your company. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Ask them about them. Then shut up and listen to the answers.

3. Create a controlled sense of urgency. Athletes understand this concept beautifully. Football players respond to the snap of the ball with a controlled sense of urgency. Basketball players, hockey players, and baseball players all understand the urgency that must accompany the missed shot, the face-off, or the crack of the bat. A controlled sense of urgency will energize both you and your team.

4. Persist. In his book, Half Time - Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance, Bob Buford says that there is nothing in life less important than the score at half time. No matter what your age, your position, your success, or lack thereof, you have the opportunity to do new and exciting things with your life in the second half. Re-evaluate, re-invent, re-position, and go for it.

5. Have fun. Join the Compliment of the Day Club. Find somebody doing something right, every day, and celebrate it, publicly. It's easy to find people doing things wrong. Change the lenses through which you view your company. Look for the good, not the bad. Change your perspective – and celebrate!

For anyone who has been there, the top spot in a company can be a lonely place. Typically they have worked hard, made sacrifices, and dedicated themselves to their job and their company. Then they get there and wonder, is this all there is? Now what?

Both personally and professionally, senior level executives need to repeatedly take stock of where they are. You must recognize and remember that you didn't get there alone. You must re-engage yourself in your life, both at work and at home. You must remember that your purpose lies in your service to others, to your families, to your employees, and to your customers. You must care. Do that, and it won't be so lonely at the top. Good luck.

James S. Bain, MBA, is an author, speaker, consultant, and coach. He is the founder of Focus on the 5, a division of Falcon Performance Institute, a consulting and corporate training firm focused on productive performance. Look for Jim's soon to be published book, "Never Pass on a Chance to P- A Roadmap to Peace in Your Life." To or find out more about Focus on the 5 and the Falcon Performance Institute, visit www.falconadv.com.

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