by Linda Williams
One of my gigs in the past couple of years has been fascinating work with an organizational development (OD) consultant who works with leadership teams in the San Francisco area. First she separately interviews all the players and compiles their answers to the same questions in a comprehensive, anonymous document they all individually review. Then she runs a two- or three-day offsite where they gather to discuss the issues, the solutions, the takeaways, and the steps going forward.
As the person who edits the initial report and then builds the post-offsite output for the client in the form of a PowerPoint deck, I play mostly a background role. I am forever listening, transcribing, and clarifying. But I get to hear these women and men talk openly, candidly, and with a great deal of vulnerability about the struggles and triumphs in their fast-paced and high-powered companies every day.
Without exception, what I hear over and over at the leadership level are issues of communication. Someone is an empath and a deep listener; someone else is self-focused. Someone can’t clearly express what he wants from his team; someone else is a serial instigator of “offline” conversations with colleagues. Someone builds alliances and leaves others out; someone else is inclusive and needs to be promoted.
One CEO of a Silicon Valley company talked about how he feels when he rounds a corner in his building to overhear a hushed conversation about a decision he’s handed down. A COO discussed her communication breakdown with a difficult manager she was trying to integrate. Still another revealed anxiety about his deportment with his company’s board just before they went public. And one head of HR cried openly when sharing the reality of downsizing.
These were only a few of the many, many interactions that went on during several different meetings I attended over the last couple years. I got to see up close and very personally how relationships got built, solidified, and deepened around courageous conversations.
Jack and I spend a lot of time discussing what’s important to us in terms of culture at DCI. We were both struck by an article we read recently about a CEO who asked to be informed within 48 hours if someone was struggling in the company, no matter their position in the food chain. He wasn’t just interested in his colleagues on the leadership team; he was talking about the entire large organization.
We are focused on this style of compassionate management—and workplace compassion in general—as we build our culture at DCI. Along with acknowledging and celebrating the good stuff, we want to be attuned to the personal struggles of our colleagues, and do whatever we can to recognize, listen, empathize, or take supportive action. As CEO, if you’re not aware of your employees’ issues, how can you be running the best organization possible? We believe that compassionate leaders, which we strive to be, put their employees’ struggles on the radar, rather than simply dismiss problems as “bad for the organization.” This means sharing failures as well as successes, and acknowledging random acts of compassion.
I learned so much more from the gig with that incredible OD consultant than just how to build a useful and pretty deck. I came to understand the value of authentic communication and compassionate leadership no matter how large and complex the organization. I like to think that’s what we will bring to the table at DCI—a warm environment in a sub-zero-cold business.