In 2010, world-renowned innovation expert Clayton M. Christensen shared some powerful words with the Harvard Business School’s graduating class. He has since turned that speech into a just released book, How Will You Measure Your Life? I first read about the speech in a Harvard Business Review article. As a leader myself, it struck a chord.
In his speech, Clayton describes seeing in his mind’s eye one of his managers leave for work one morning with a relatively strong amount of confidence, happiness, and self-esteem. Then he pictures her driving home to her family, 8 or 10 hours later, feeling unappreciated, frustrated, underutilized. He imagines how profoundly her lowered self-esteem and dissatisfaction affects the way she interacts with her own family, perhaps her children. The vision in his mind then fast-forwards to another day, a better day, when she drives home after a long day with greater self-esteem, feeling she has learned a lot, been recognized for achieving valuable things, and played a significant role in the success of some important initiatives. He then imagines how positively that affects her as a spouse and as a parent.
Christensen’s conclusion is this: Management is the most noble of professions, if practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility, be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a bigger team and a bigger purpose. More and more, MBA students go to school thinking that a career in business means buying, selling, deal making, and investing in new companies. That is unfortunate. Making deals does not yield the rewards that come from building up people.
I think all leaders are in the people business. So I ask, how do we build up our people? How do we authentically lead them, serve them, help them, and engage them? Are we aware of the impact that we have, not just on our employees but on their families and their communities? Are we paying enough attention? I’ve seen with the great teams that work at my company, how much every single person wants to contribute, for they are all capable of great work. They just need leaders who provide opportunities for personal growth, who foster an environment where employees are recognized and appreciated for their dedication and hard work.
I’m happy Christensen has these thoughts out there once again in his new book. These ideas matter to me and hopefully to many other leaders out there as well.