One of my favorite parts of the Sunday New York Times is the Sunday Business section titled “Corner Office” by Adam Bryant. It is always on page two and consists of a Q and A with CEOs or senior leaders. The questions tend to focus on leadership, culture, interview questions, and advice to college graduates. Because of the content, I require my leadership students to read it weekly. And I always learn something from reading these interviews.
But this week made me very sad, discouraged, and disillusioned.
The theme was “build a culture on trust and respect” and since I am a “culture person” the leader’s comments were right on target. When asked about leadership lessons, the response was:
“Early on in my career, I was told, ‘It’s all about people.’ I got it intellectually, but it took me quite a while to really get it. It really is all about people, and if you get that right, the other stuff will get addressed. But you have to work at it all the time … Culture takes an awful lot of time and effort, and it can be destroyed very quickly, because it’s built on trust and respect. You’re respecting the individual and what they do, and you’re trusting them, and they’re doing the same for you. That doesn’t happen over night. It’s like personal relationships.”
When asked about advice to college graduates:
“Relationships really matter, and you need to get that right, both for your career as an individual and as a future leader. I think a lot of people pay attention to the technical stuff and the hard stuff about whatever discipline they’re in. But it’s the softer side that will get you every time if you’re not paying attention to it. It’s probably the biggest determinant of whether you’re going to be successful.”
I believe every word from this leader and I advocate these themes.
But on the first page of this Sunday’s Business (October 4, 2015) was an article titled “A Grueling Pace and a Tragic End: The deaths of young bankers force Wall Street to reckon with a culture of overwork.” This long article described the suicides of three young men who worked for banks on Wall Street all attributed to long hours and stressful culture in which they worked.
As a result of these deaths and the publicity, some banks are trying to change the culture by limiting the hours people work. According to the article, “Barclays forbids analysts to work more than 12 days in a row. JP Morgan Chase has given analysts the option of having one ‘protected weekend’ each month—meaning no work on Saturday or Sunday—as long as it is scheduled in advance. Bank of America put in place measures to improve supervision and ensure that its employees take off a minimum of four weekend day a month.”
Really? Will this create a healthy culture?
But the rewards for this long, stressful work are great. The article said that one of these men only had a salary of $100,000, but that his bonus was $400,000! Not bad for 29 years of age. Yet, he jumped to his death from his 24th floor apartment in Manhattan.
In the article, some people say this stressful culture is self-imposed and that bankers brag about their hours as a badge of honor. This reminded me of the old movie Paper Chase of how tough it is go get through law school or other movies about military boot camp.
Is this really how to build a culture of trust and respect?
If culture is critical, how can leaders expect people to literally work themselves to death?
Why aren’t leaders walking the talk?
If you believe in a culture of trust and respect, how are you walking the talk?