Business psychologist Reynold Jelman believes that leaders who focus only on visible measures of success can be a liability to their organizations.
Over the last 15 years I have worked one-on-one as a business psychologist with hundreds of senior executives from some of Europe’s biggest companies. Each of these executives is highly successful in business terms. Although each is unique, there is a pattern that links them. They are driven to achieve professional success, but the status, power and wealth it brings are rarely fulfilling. Success comes at a high price for them, as leaders of their businesses, as human beings and in their closest relationships.
Why should that matter? Surely we don’t need our leaders to be fulfilled, just to be good and efficient at what they do.
It matters because, unless leaders are fulfilled more broadly than by simply delivering the latest quarterly results, they are operating at a fraction of their potential. This is profoundly damaging to organizations and, inevitably, to the individuals. The cost in organizational and personal terms is vast.
Success and its limits
To better understand the profound damage this does to organizations and individuals, consider the executives with whom I work. They share certain characteristics. They play vital roles in their organizations and are generally working long hours under stressful conditions. However, they look fit and present themselves well. Any stress is not obvious. All have strong records of success in their careers. Their typical age range is 35 to 50.
These executives come to me because they are experiencing a loss of purpose or have difficulties they can’t resolve, even with the help of a traditional coach or mentor. Their responses vary from puzzlement to extreme concern and stress. They all have strong problem-solving skills but are hitting barriers in their understanding of what is going on or in how to resolve the complex human issues they are facing. They have also found that doing more of what they had done previously no longer works. The usual response – working harder – only increases stress and puts more pressure on their teams, families and other significant relationships.
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