Engagement Radio: Mark Crowley on Leading from the Heart
Welcome to the Engagement Radio podcast series. Today’s episode is brought you by C.A. Short Company and EGR International, courtesy of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance and Engagement Strategies Media. Our guest is leadership consultant, speaker and author Mark Crowley. Mark’s book, Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century, mirrors his mission “To fundamentally change how we lead and manage people in the workplace, and to intentionally make it far more supportive of human needs.” Prior to writing Lead From The Heart, Mark was Vice President at Washington Mutual Investments and led a team of 4,000 nationwide branches. He was named the company’s Leader of the Year in 2008. Welcome, Mark, thank you very much for joining us.
Crowley: Thanks. It’s an honor to be here.
ESM: It’s our pleasure, really. Let’s jump right in and start talking about when you first discovered your interest in this whole idea of engagement.
Crowley: Well, it has been a lifelong journey, and I mean lifelong. I had a very, very destructive upbringing that influenced me to manage people very differently and essentially to give people what I didn’t get growing up. I was deprived of a lot of things, and I always believed that if I had these things, if I’d had this kind of support, I could have been infinitely more successful by the time I graduated from college. What I started to do is to just experiment, give people more care, more support, more of my time, more development, sharing my ideas, encouraging them, giving them recognition. Basically nurturing people, nurturing their well-being and helping people to thrive.
Every business that I ever managed in my 25-year career, I always had remarkable success. What happened was, the organization that I was working for, I’d just been named Leader of the Year, and I was doing a great job, I was very, very happy…and then the bank failed. It had nothing to do with what I was doing, but I decided that I was going to use that time to write a book. And the book that I ended up writing is fundamentally different from the one I set out to write, because I had to come up with an understanding of what I was doing that was making people so engaged, so incredibly productive, so loyal, scaling mountains for me. And I realized that, all along I’d been affecting them in their hearts.
The long and short of it is, I reached out and found a lot of supporting information, but the piece that really allowed me to have the confidence to call the book Lead From The Heart is that I discovered that the heart has its own intelligence. For 300 years science and medical schools taught doctors that the heart was just a pump. It was like a carburetor.
I met a world-class cardiologist and she said, “You have figured out something that we’re just figuring out in science,” and that is that feelings and emotions drive human behavior, and the heart is a feeling, sensing organ. What the heart feels translates into thinking and behaving, and so all the things that I was doing to make people feel safe and valued and encouraged and just really, really fundamentally supported as human beings was translating into this deep experience of positive emotions, which we now know really fuels human performance. That’s the long and short of it, but as I put the book together I realized, “Man, this goes back through my entire life.”
ESM: It’s interesting that you bring up this idea of emotion, and being able to connect at an emotional level, and that you might have intuitively done that because you were trying to basically make up for some lost ground, maybe from your childhood. Why do you think this is counter-intuitive in the business world? We still have human beings running businesses. Why do you think that this isn’t being done more often? Why is this not common sense?
Crowley: I think principally because our traditional theory of leadership was born in the era when people were easily replaceable. That is, pay people as little as possible, squeeze as much out of them as possible, and that’s going to drive an expanded bottom line. That coincided with connecting the dots to Maslow, where people were going to work to meet their most basic needs. Now, meeting those basic needs has become much easier for most people.
Certainly we’ve got people who are struggling for homes and food, but working people have the easiest time in our history of meeting their basic needs. We’ve got people going to work and they’re expecting a lot more than we’ve been giving them, but our leadership hasn’t changed. There are organizations in this country that bring in people, and they let them work full time. Then they start to scale back their hours so they don’t have to pay them benefits, and it’s a whole squeeze mentality. This is hard wired into the way we think we need to run a business, when in fact just the opposite is true.
This coincides with what Adam Grant found in his book Give and Take, that the more you give, the more you get. This is sort of traditional wisdom, but it’s not commonly understood in business. That really matches up to my experience with managing people. The more generous I was with people – the more I gave to them – the safer I made them feel; the more I shared what I learned and taught them and shared in their success, the more they wanted to reciprocate.
When you’re being given the things that you need to thrive, you just don’t know how many ways you can possibly come up with to reward your boss, and that’s been my experience. Really, if CEOs understood this, they would hire people who were more caring and nurturing, and not command-and-control types who manage by fear. The more you do to make people feel valued and supported and cared for and even safe, to the extent that you can, they will scale mountains for you. Their performance will be extraordinary.
ESM: What do you think are some of the biggest obstacles to management or managers? What is stopping managers from adopting this point of view?
Crowley: I think we need to give them permission. It’s interesting…in my last job I managed thousands of stockbrokers, and these are supposed to be the hardest commission-driven salespeople out there, and they just responded so incredibly positively to this. And yet, if you were to go to any other brokerage in this country it’s, “If you don’t perform we’re going to get somebody in here…” and it’s a constant drip, drip, drip of fear and oppression. I think that’s just the way we historically believe we need to be to get people to perform.
It’s interesting because the older Millennials in the workplace are instinctively managing like this, because they watched how their parents grew up and they said, “You know what? No.” My own son said to me, “I don’t want to have that experience. I don’t want any part of that corporate world where you’re just feeling like no matter what you do it will never be enough, and that there’s always this underlying fear that the job can be taken from you.” This is the worst thing you can do to human beings.
Hire well, and then nurture well. Just like they do in sports, you know? We don’t hire Adrian Gonzalez with the LA Dodgers and then start riding him and tell him, “Hey, we’re paying you all this money, but if you don’t perform we’re going to take it away and you’re not going to play for the Dodgers.” But this is what we do in business. It’s just our nature. Changing is hard, but once people understand this…it sort of matches up to everyone’s experience of the greatest boss they ever had, the ones that really left a lasting impression and got their greatest work out of them. It matches up to what we know…I think we just need to give people permission to do it.
ESM: So the more that managers exhibit leading from the heart, the more the people that are going to be coming into those roles in the future will also adopt that, because they see that as the type of behavior that’s needed within that organization. Now, other than just buying the book, what three pieces of advice would you give a manager – what should you do to impact employee engagement right now?
Crowley: I think the first one has to do with those in the senior levels of organizations – anyone who’s in a position to hire a person to supervise other people. The question that I encourage managers to ask is, “Is the person in front of me, does this person care about the success, achievement and well-being of other people, or is it all about themselves?” We fill our management ranks with people who are singularly focused on their own careers, their own recognition, their own pay, and I’m sure people reading this are nodding their heads…this is one of the principal complaints all over the world, and this is what needs to change. Going forward, hiring advocates has to be a bigger objective.
The second point, I think, has to do with being very vigilant. I’m talking about putting people into positions that, not only do they have the talent to do, but they have the heart to do. They have the passion to do. We’re often so desperate to get positions filled, and we have an applicant in front of us, we look at their resume, we ask them a couple questions and we go, “This person could do this job, so I’m going to hire them.” What we don’t ask them is, “What turns you on? What makes your heart sing? What gets you excited? What past positions have you had that you knew when you were doing them, that you couldn’t have been any happier?” If that doesn’t match up to the job, then we shouldn’t be hiring these people. There’s no way you can get to engagement if their heart’s not in it.
The third thing is what I call “inspiring the heart.” Kouzes and Posner called it encouraging the heart, but it’s really about valuing and honoring achievements. I think everybody, every leader in the world, knows that recognition is important. Yet time and time again, I can tell you, through the course of my career, bosses would allow people to kill themselves getting an incredible amount of work done, and then as soon as it was done they’d go, “OK, we’re two weeks late on the next project, so I need you over here.” People are like, “What? We’re not going to celebrate this? You’re not going to let me savor the victory really thank me for all the time I put into this, the weekend hours and all of that?” This is managerial malpractice.
I’ve learned that if we want everyone engaged, then we need to recognize everyone, and it may take longer, but recognition is really the heart’s currency. And if we aren’t appreciating people, not acknowledging their performance, it’s not only destructive, but people just turn off. They just say, “Why should I care?” If we want to engage them, we need to institutionalize recognition.
ESM: Thanks Mark. I really appreciate you taking the time today.
Crowley: My pleasure.
ESM: Once again, from Engagement Strategies Media and the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, thank you very much. Remember, you can find us at www.enterpriseengagement.org, and on Twitter, @eea_org. Let’s engage.
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