After this proverbial "aha!" moment, I abandoned the OpenDoor Policy. It was one of my first acts of Reality-Based Leadership. I didn't shut the door on my team members, exactly, but I began changing the conversation when they asked for a minute. Instead of passively listening or directing, I began asking questions:
"What do you know for sure?"
"What is your part in this?"
"What are your ideas for resolving this issue?"
"What are you doing to help?"
When they came to me with narratives about the problems they encountered, I gave them a mental process that forced them to deconstruct their "stories" and move into action. The process shifted their thinking to a focus on the facts. And it asked them to outline proposed solutions or helpful actions that would positively
affect the situation.
CONVENTIONAL WISDOM FAIL
The Open-Door Policy failure got me thinking more about the conventional wisdom that had been dispensed in my leadership training. What if what we had been taught in HR's leadership boot camps was all wrong? Based on the results we were getting, the traditional leadership methods certainly didn't seem to be working.
I could see the damage being done when employees were what I came to label "emotionally expensive." These were the folks who spent their time arguing with reality instead of confronting it directly. They contributed opinions instead of taking action. They judged others instead of offering help. They saw themselves as victims of cruel circumstances instead of recognizing that circumstances are the reality within which they must succeed.
One of the first mental processes I taught employees, adapted from my cognitive therapy background, was to edit stories and eliminate the emotional churn that muddied the waters and obscured reality. People began to learn productive ways to resolve their own issues. They began to figure out what the real business issues were and come up with productive options for tackling them. They stopped the BMW driving. It wasn't long before our team began operating in a completely different way. Although leaders in other departments were getting bogged down in constant firefighting, the teams I worked with were becoming independent, efficient, and highly engaged.
That recognition sparked in me even more introspection about the role of a leader. I began to wonder: What if a leader's role isn't to improve morale or motivate employees? What if a leader's role isn't to keep employees engaged and happy? In fact, that expectation sets up leaders for failure. They can't motivate others—people make their own choices about motivation, accountability, commitment, and happiness.
A leader would better serve the organization by refusing to foster the daily theatrics at work and by coaching employees in ways that are grounded in reality. After all, not a single budget I have ever seen or managed has a line item for Ego Management. But even my short experience with the Open-Door Policy had shown me drama and emotional waste were costing the company big time.
After more than 20 years of working with the Reality-Based philosophy and honing Reality-Based tools in hundreds of organizations, I'm excited to be writing this book because I now have research data that quantify the cost of ego-driven emotional waste. Organizations are losing billions of dollars annually.
They lose money in two ways. First, they're investing money and organizational energy in employee engagement surveys, HR initiatives, and learning-and-development programs that actually exacerbate the problems they're trying to solve. Second, organizations aren't developing leaders who have the mind-sets,
methods, and tools they need to help them bypass ego and eliminate costly emotional waste.
Although I have more than 20 years of qualitative experience from consulting in hundreds of organizations, I wanted to quantify the amount of emotional waste found in typical organizations to help leaders calculate the costs of workplace drama. My company, Reality-Based Leadership, recently partnered with The Futures Company to capture data around the phenomenon that the Open-Door Policy brought to my attention.
Our research found that the average employee spends 2 hours and 26 minutes per day in drama and emotional waste.
Wages and salaries vary greatly from organization to organization, of course, but let's use a hypothetical company with 100 employees, each earning $30 an hour and working 40 hours a week. Annually, wages paid would equal $6,240,000. Based on our research on the cost of emotional waste, well over $1,794,000 would have to be written off as a loss.