Friday, July 6, 2012

Who are you serving?

Earlier this month I was hired to give a speech to the US Marshal Service.

Leading up to it, I wasn't sure what to expect.  It was my first leadership speech addressing a Federal agency, let alone one that conjured up images in my mind of Tommy Lee Jones hunting down Harrison Ford in "The Fugitive" or James Arness as Marshal Dillon in "Gunsmoke."

As you would suspect, I had images of tough, austere, and rigid leaders.  The kind you would imagine getting hardened every day simply by dealing with the dark side of humanity.

What I found was quite the opposite.

When I arrived the evening before the event, I was greeted by three senior male officers.  They were so warm and welcoming that over a cocktail we spoke about our families as they enthusiastically told me about being fathers; saddened about their children growing up too fast or in the case of one, wondering if he will cry when his last child goes off to college.  Their realness extended into expressing their passion and purpose in their work.  Ironically, it seemed to me that they weren't hardened, but instead softened...with a strong belief in the good of humanity.

In their work, they are clear on who they are serving and this clarity enables their leadership and gives them a sense of purpose and passion.


This experience sat with me for some time and I reflected on it as I read Greg Smith's article "Why Am I Leaving Goldman Sachs" in The New York Times Opinion Pages.  He wrote about the declining culture and growing lack of moral fiber at this company with 143 years of longevity.  He spoke about how the customer, who used to be the one they served eagerly, was becoming instead the one they squeezed, ridiculed and often misled for profit.  

Greg says it all started when "The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence
It seemed to me that unlike the US Marshal Service, Goldman Sachs had lost their way and no longer had clarity about who they were serving.   The customer was no longer their reason for being. 

However, Goldman Sachs is not alone.  Unfortunately, we can all lose our way.

Overly focusing on the monetary aspects of business and life at the expense of all else, can cause subtle shifts that can cause you or your business to lose focus on who you are serving.  As a result you forget the purpose and the reason for your work and you lose your passion for it as well.

Don't follow Goldman Sachs' example, here are some tips to help keep you on track.
  1. Get clear on who you serve.  Too often we don't even think about who we are serving with the work we do.  Getting clear on this can help you find a stronger purpose and passion to fuel your work.  Formulate a picture of that end consumer your product reaches.  Know that key customer who is going to benefit from your efforts.  Be specific with describing your target and their needs.  Put your work in context of service, even if you work in a for-profit business.
  2. Make choices consistent with the needs of those you serve.  Part of the clarity of knowing who you serve is also ensuring that the actions you take and the choices you make are in line with the needs of those you serve.  When those actions and choices are in line with their needs, you strengthen your focus and connection with your target.  Over time this will enable stronger leadership that will also fuel your passion and purpose.
  3. Be brave and keep your integrity.  My mother used to say"Just because your friend jumps off the cliff, doesn't mean you have to too."  If you find that your company culture no longer supports or aligns with your own internal compass, don't sell out.  Stand your ground and find another way.  While Greg Smith's actions in writing this article might be met with criticism, he showed bravery and a strong sense of integrity.  It is hard to do what's right when the tide goes against it, but those who do certainly sleep better at night. 
I am all for a good night's sleep.  What about you?  Do you know who you serve with the work that you do?

No comments: