Several years ago I found myself in a large corner office sitting across the table from the President; no, not THE President, but the president of the company in which I was employed. Richard had summoned me to his office to ask me to lead a complex infrastructure project that would cross all lines of business within our corporation. Richard was a people ‘s president, he was very laid back, the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind sitting next to on a plane. On this particular day I assumed Richard just wanted to let me know what his expectations were for this project. I was pleasantly surprised when he opened up the conversation with “Chris, what insight can you share with me that would help me to be a better leader?” Now, let me just say that no matter how nice a guy Richard was, he was still “The President” and my gut instinct told me to tread lightly here. Thoughts began to run through my head, you know the one’s when your boss ask you about his or her performance or when you’re in your exit interview but you don’t want to burn any bridges. How was I going to respond? Would I tell him the truth about what I thought he could improve on or would I take the safe way out and skirt the question? In my case I really had no choice; my personality is just not one to avoid hard conversations. So, I respectfully shared what I had observed from my corner of the company, both the good and the bad. As Richard listened I could tell that he genuinely wanted my honest feedback. We spent the next 5-7 minutes talking and then Richard said something to me that was very profound, he said “There is so much freedom when you lose the fear of being fired.” He went on to tell me how he had lost the fear of being fired the day he shifted his focus from simply having a job, to that of adding value. He explained how when he comes into an organization his desire is for a partnership, to be a good fit, in turn that “good fit” yields value for both the company and him personally. It was in that moment I recognized that a metamorphosis had already occurred in my life, it happened a few years prior, without me even being aware. As I sat across from him in his corner office I was keenly aware of the freedom I felt. I realized that it was the freedom Richard was talking about, the freedom from the fear of being fired that had just lead me to be honest with him about his performance as our leader.
I ask you to reflect for a moment on where you are personally, have you experienced this same freedom I am talking about or are you still showing up each day focused on how to stay employed? Does every change in your organization leave you with that feeling that somewhere in the organization folks are plotting to replace you or downsize your department? As a leader, what about your staff, are you constantly dispelling rumors and reassuring them that their jobs are safe? If you are, pay attention to these tell-tale signs that you or your team may be focused on employment rather than adding value. I challenge you to re-focus on why you are doing what you are doing; what is the mission and vision of the organization and how does that align with your personal mission and vision? Are they in direct conflict? If so, that freedom will always elude you and without that freedom you will never realize your fullest potential. Your ability to sow into others’ lives will be restricted because of fear. As leaders we must be confident in that freedom in order to continue to grow and share that freedom with those around us.