Monday, December 14, 2009

Leadership Lessons "From Up In The Air"

This isn't a movie review of my recent screening of George Clooney's newest movie, "Up in the Air", but more of a surgical dissection of a few of the leadership lessons I took away from it. Fear not, there are no spoilers so you still can see the movie, which by the way I did thoroughly enjoy. George Clooneys character and the situations presented were fairly realistic reflections of the anxiety that plagues much of today's business world. Allow me to briefly set up the movie.

Clooney's character works for a company who is contracted to manage the termination process for downsizing organizations. His job takes him all over the world, helping him in his pursuit of elite status with Frequent Flyer programs. Of particular note is the brilliant product placements throughout the film which almost serve as characters. Clooney's character brilliantly spins a termination into an opportunity for the films "victims". As Clooney mentors a Generation Y protege, we are taken on a journey of the frailty and victories of human relationships. So what does this have to do with leadership.

People are anxious today. Even those in the most stable of industries are seeing the dark veil of uncertainty as tomorrow's accessibility becomes more a question than an expectation. I had a recent coaching session with a young professional woman who was almost finding this state of anxiety paralyzing. She stated she was afraid to make decisions she would normally make without hesitation in the past. She feared the repercussion of failure in a time when companies are "looking for an opportunity to let you go". Her goals were starting to morph away from ambition and towards compliance. "Stay off the radar", was becoming her mantra. What a shame to see one of this company's most talented individuals do herself and her company this incredible disservice.

So what should the company do. Leadership is most visible during times of adversity. If it's not evident in your organization during these times, chances are your ranks don't contain many leaders. Here are some tips

LISTEN. Simply stated but often a complex execution. Clooney's character was cleaning up a termination meeting gone south (due to the naivety of his mentee). He read between the lines on the employees resume only to unveil that this job was a prison to the employee's aspirations. He restated this as an opportunity to follow that dream for the benefit of his children. The employee took pause to this. What are your employees aspirations and needs? Do you create opportunities to listen?

ENGAGE IN RELATIONSHIP BUILDING. Your employees are feeling more and more isolated these days. Every time they don't see their managers, they started drawing their own conclusions. This fosters that "stay off the radar" mentality my mentee stated. It's destructive and a sure fire way to slow the progression of success.

COMMUNICATE. Information is gold in this day and age. As "Knowledge Workers" your employees need it. As a leaders, it should be a driving passion to provide it. Let them know what you know and what you don't know. They need a leader they can trust. Don't hide behind the curtain of uncertainty. Instead bast in the warmth of focus and direction.

CELEBRATE THOSE THAT TAKE RISKS. You need to grow today. This isn't the time to join your cowardly competitors who are hiding under rocks and regressing from the life force of business, growth. Growth is not waste. Help your employees see their potential by "Getting on the Radar".

Sure this list is simple, short and not a guarantee for longevity. It is a starting point though. Don't leave your future and that of your employees up to chance. Today is a time for Leadership. If you hear the calling, don your cape or magic lasso and step up to be the hero your employees need but more importantly deserve. To "Stay off the Radar" in the mist of this calling is a horrible tragedy. The calling is loud. Can you hear it?

You can follow me on Twitter @TerrenceWing and @LiquidLearn

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