How and Why to Make Business Personal

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I have a radical proposition to make: all business is personal.

Whether you are calling a customer, running a meeting, presenting to your board or having a performance discussion, the impact on yourself and others is a deeply personal one. In fact, everything you do in business affects who you are and your relationships with others. Executives who claim “It’s just business, nothing personal” are kidding themselves. Business is immensely personal, and the sooner we realize this the better we will be.

Why is this so important today? Because at a time when organizational life is screaming out for more transparency, intimacy and connection in a networked world, many leaders underestimate these realities. Every year, Edelman Consulting, a global public relations firm, conducts a trust and credibility survey around the world. Its Trust Barometer, which polls thousands of people annually, has shown historic drops in people’s trust of business and government. Fewer than one in five believes that a business or government leader will actually tell the truth when confronted with a difficult issue. The business impact of this fragility is profound: difficulty in leading or following others, inability to build strong teams, trouble seeing other viewpoints, and undermining the very covenant on which organizations are built – integrity and credibility.

People are hungry to be led by real people — leaders who are comfortable in their own skin and are authentic, trustworthy, and fair-minded. In the past ten years, I have had the great fortune of working closely with Ken Samet, the president and CEO of MedStar Health, a $5 billion nonprofit regional health care system, the largest in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore region. As a healthy and grounded leader, Ken sees his primary job is to connect with MedStar’s 30,000 associates and 6,000 affiliated physicians. And he must make these connections count as the U.S. health system is morphing from a bunch of independent, acute hospitals into a comprehensive distributed care delivery system.

Earlier in October, I attended a dinner reception with 800 people from across the country celebrating the life and work of Ken Samet. The Anti-Defamation League gave Ken their prestigious 2015 Achievement Award. Numerous people stood at the podium honoring Ken for his profound commitment to equality and human rights, to compassion and mutual understanding and to building a community marked by respect and service to others. I just sat back and smiled all night. Here was my colleague and friend being honored for what business and government need so desperately – for leaders to be a mensch (translated simply as a person of integrity and honor).

So ask yourself some questions:

Are you a truly honest and authentic person? Can you say you are comfortable in your own skin? And do you treat others with respect?

Do you guard against the “Big Boss Disease,” that tendency to isolate yourself and cut yourself off from criticism, or do you shoot the messenger when you get bad news?

Do you discount your materialistic values or do you like showing off your power, influence, money or status?

Can you make fun of yourself and admit mistakes so that others can see you as a complete person or do you try to keep a faultless facade?

Over the years I have found that great leaders master four pillars of healthy relationships:

Empathy. This is a deep understanding on an emotional and cognitive level about the fears, frustrations, aspirations and concerns of others. Don’t leave home without it.

Fairness. This is genetic and fundamental. Consciously or unconsciously, we monitor situations and do all we can – actively or passively — to remedy any unfairness we may witness. Grounded leaders fundamentally understand this unspoken principle.

Communication. This social skill is at the heart of great leadership – it’s the ability in spoken and written word or deed to express yourself fully and understand what others are trying to communicate. Be conscious, clear and courageous as you interact with people.

Appreciation. Recognition trumps money. Say thank you, write a note, give a compliment, apologize or ask a question about someone’s weekend.

Good people make great leaders. Let’s all be part of the solution and not part of the problem.


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