As an executive coach, I help my clients unleash their energies through a culture of shared leadership in their organizations. The more I observe corporate development, the more I see that corporate success might all boil down to the wisdom of Friedrich Nietzsche expressed in the Gay Science in 1882: What does your conscience say? — “You shall become the one you are.”
Initially intended for individuals, I suggest that Nietzsche’s advice shall equally apply to individuals and organizations: any organization – for profit, nonprofit, governmental – must know what it stands for, and “what its collective conscience says”, to paraphrase the philosopher. Based on my experience as a leadership coach, the most successful companies are those that made the collective effort to define a strong and clear identity: an identity that positively differentiates them and mobilizes all stakeholders for collective success around a clear mission.
For start-ups and young companies, it is about finding their niche, i.e. how they best serve their clients, and about regularly reminding themselves of the initial energy that made them come to life. Here is an example: a couple of entrepreneurs have set up an innovative company to deliver well-being products and services across Europe and Asia. After 3 years of successfully developing their brand and revenues, they reached a plateau: misalignments in team spirit created tensions and revenues did not grow as planned. I sat down with the management team and asked them what they really were running after: what was their initial spark? what was their deep-seated purpose? After weeks of internal questioning and maturing, they reached a very energetic and concise motto that fleshed out their concrete mission.
Radical team restructuring followed, guided by a renewed sense of why they were all working so hard. Strategic reorientation followed as well and new dynamic recruits joined the team, bringing it to a new level. They mobilized new suppliers and clients using the newly crafted statement of purpose. This clearly affirmed vision has helped build stronger relationships and partnerships with key stakeholders.
Today, the company is growing again. The CEO of the start-up literally thanked me for “helping her become who she is”. Feeling the energy of her teams, I bet that they also thank her for letting them become the ones they are.
How does this translate to big corporations? Danone, with its 15 billion Euro revenues, is the world number 1 in fresh dairy products and number 2 in bottled waters: it has steadily developed its revenues and operational margins for the last 15 years. To do so, it has focused a lot of resources to develop its core identity, as well as its staff adaptability and well-being. Summarizing its identity in 10 words is one of the main levers used by Danone to unleash the energy of all its teams around one goal: “bringing health through food to as many people as possible”. These words are found on their corporate website as well as in their inner and outer communication tools. With this concise and clear-cut statement of purpose the company is capable to continuously attract and motivate pools of talents, strongly committed to “make Danone become the one it is”.
Last but not least, how can big corporations help their employees become who they are? Here is a trick given by a CEO of a major industrial player in Europe, with headquarters in Germany: when I asked him about “freedom in his company”, he mentioned that one of his key roles as a CEO is to ensure that space is provided to everyone for the expression of their creativity and potential. Why? Because, the marginalized – the “weirdoes” – are those who bring innovation, he said; so, if you do not create space for them, your company will die. This answer is not given by the CEO of a Californian start-up, but by a key executive of an old and rigorous European company. It might be useful to ask yourself if everyone in your organization is becoming the one s/he is.
To improve the quality of the leadership culture in your teams, here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself:
1. Do I know what my company, my department or my team truly stand for?
a. If not, how can we together refine our statement of collective purpose?
b. If yes, what can I do to let my organization become even more what it truly wants to be?
2. Are the people in my organization becoming the ones they are? What can I do to have more of them thrive in our professional environment? How can I give them more space to express their best potential and serve our collective purpose?