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Life Without Gravity

A blog chronicling the up's and down's, trials and tribulations, fear and happiness of moving your life from the expected 9-to-5 job to a life of consulting. While it is a big and often scary decision, it is a time of discovery, rejuvenation and introspection that will help you remember who you are and who you were supposed to be. It's a wonderful journey.

Copyright © Luanne Lawrence  |  All Rights Reserved

A Failure of Leadership: 

When CEOs fail to appreciate

their staff, all suffer

121 Middleton Way Sacramento CA 95864 US             +1.916.698.2809

The alarm went off this morning – a Monday morning – and I smiled, stretched, leisurely got a cup of coffee and sat down and wrote this piece. The days of alarms waking me up with a sense of dread, stress or anxiety have ended and now they symbolize a new day and new opportunities. In fact, I begin my weeks with a goal to appreciate and celebrate my clients – the often under-recognized, unappreciated team of marketing and communications professionals.

My sense of achievement has been so altered after just one year of working from my home. There was a tension I felt in doing what felt I did best – marketing – and what I valued. I was the classic overachiever. I came to the office no later than 7 a.m., rarely took a break or lunch. I left at 5 p.m. or a little earlier so that I could pick up the kids. But then, after cooking a full meal and cleaning up, I sat down and worked another 2-3 hours. On weekends I worked from 3 p.m. to midnight on Sundays, giving myself Saturday to not answer e-mail. In theory. In the last several years of my marketing 9-to-5 life, I worked for bosses who expected me on call 24/7- vacations, weekends, children’s birthday parties. I was once reprimanded for not taking my chancellor’s phone call when I was hiking in Death Valley, far from service.

In stepping back and in stepping forward as a consultant, I realize that I never worked for a boss who understood what marketing and communications, as a profession, really is. It is only now that I understand that much of my overachiever syndrome was caused by my incessant desire to please my bosses. But, they were not trained in my field. They all thought they were expert in it (anyone can write; anyone can market). Not a single one was ever going to appreciate my experience and talent. And yet I spent 25 years trying to make it happen.

When my husband and I married, I knew there were a range of ingrained behaviors that, no matter how much I loved, nagged, cajoled, he was not going to change. But I have spent 30 years trying to change a few of them. Much like my former bosses, I am exercising the full sentiment behind the famous quote: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

I am finding a pattern now in working with my clients. Most are higher education marketing vice presidents. Most are very unhappy workaholics who face criticism and incivility on a daily basis. In universities, Ph.D.s sit at the highest rung of the ladder. We forget that a Ph.D. earns that credential by taking a more and more narrow look at a problem that they want to solve, ponder or address. They are trained to move from broad to narrow. So when a marketer, who needs to be a foot deep in every area of the university and its hundreds of disciplines, tries to bring a broad perspective to leadership, they are often dismissed. They are trying to operate in a sea of tenured professionals, and they serve at the pleasure of – no job security in a team of other leaders who move back to faculty positions if the administrative post does not suit them. That’s enough to create a lot of insecurity and tension as well as classism.

I am seeing it time and time again. Some of the most talented, brightest communications leaders are burning out at a rapid pace. When I closely look at their situations, the one common denominator is their reporting line. They are working very hard to serve well and impress a president who -with hubris - tells them how to do their jobs or dismisses their suggestions. But the level of respect has deteriorated and the level of quality leadership in higher education seems to be strained. Some patterns of presidential and administrative leadership behavior that I am seeing in regard to their critical communications leaders:

  • Not including communications leadership in key meetings and in decisions that will have ripples internally or externally.
  • Reducing budgets and staff with justification that they are not a profit center.
  • Not sharing pertinent information and allowing the communications staff to learn of key developments from the media, catching them unprepared.
  • Forcing a focus on crisis communications and not paying attention to moving the institution’s reputation forward.
  • Oddly, presidents who know nothing about or ever invest in knowing about the staff’ family, personal lives, interests, hobbies, etc. – dehumanizing the communications team.
  • By not investing in the staff, it becomes easy to cast blame when negative news hits the president’s office, and the communications team is often the scapegoat for situations in which they were not even engaged or their counsel not taken.
  • There is little to no positive feedback, congratulations or acknowledgement for excellent work.

One my roles as a consultant has been to serve as a confidante and counselor – I have walked miles in my clients’ shoes and yet now, as a distanced participant, I can identify with their challenges and even share some successes I have seen with clients trying new approaches.

Monday mornings are bright for me now. No more Sunday stomach aches. I work with clients who I closely identify with, respect, understand and who are doing fantastic work. I love giving them compliments, congratulating them on good ideas and giving them the level of recognition that they deserve. High five to all the hard-working, earnest communicators and marketers who persevere through it all.