You Can Love a Company, But Can a Company Love You Back?


company love

Since my first job selling television ad time in the early 17 century, I believed working for a company was about more than just cashing a paycheck. For me, there was always a very deep emotional connection to the place I worked. I was always proud to tell people where I worked and had great pride in the companies I worked for when I crossed the threshold every day.

It may sound naïve, but I was convinced the ‘company’ was this sentient entity that would always have my best interests at heart. I really did love it, and I believed it loved me back.

Years ago, when I had grown deeply disappointed in the company I worked for, my wife Heidi said something profound, “You can love a company, but a company can’t love you back.” She didn’t mean it as an indictment of all organizations, but as a realistic assessment that companies are collections of living breathing human beings. Some of the bosses you work for will live up to your standards and the values and direction of the corporation, but some will not. Things change, directions change. When they do, it’s time to decide if you can change to suit them, or if you need to move on.

I realized I did need to leave that company. I had been staying out of a sense of allegiance that wasn’t being reciprocated. I was going crazy watching my new leaders who I thought were headed in the wrong direction, and in turn I was driving those people crazy. It was bad for both of us.

Now, after a few decades spent consulting with some amazing organizations and leaders, what I’ve found is that while companies can’t love, great leaders and co-workers can. And those kind of positive relationships are fueled by deliberate, sustainable and vibrant corporate cultures.

The exceptional bosses who run these cultures care about their people, they challenge them with clear goals, cheer for their successes, and want them to be happy in their business and personal lives. When we find leaders like that, we typically go the extra mile and don’t want to disappoint. As the Clinton campaign might have quipped, “It’s about the boss, stupid.”

But then our boss gets promoted or transferred, and everything can change.

In its most recent research, The Gallup Organization estimates only one in 10 people truly have the potential to be a good manager. And yet in their paper “Why Great Managers are so rare,” the researchers estimate a manager accounts for at least 70 percent of employee engagement across an organization. Wow. That might explain why only 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged. It’s as low as 13 percent worldwide.

So, what to do?

Obviously we must add value in our positions and be good at what we do. That’s a given. But what follows are three other simple things you can do to protect yourself from changes that will inevitably come in your company, so you can maintain a good attitude and positive career trajectory:

1. Surround yourself with good people.

People are the culture of a company, not the values or mission posted on a wall. Spend time with people who encourage you. Those who survive big changes often have several high-level mentors, who are not their bosses, who they can turn to for advice and who will have their back. They also choose a network of work friends as carefully as they chose their friends in their personal lives, and they nurture those relationships with time and effort.

2. Stay clear of bad bosses.

This may sound like officious advice, but it’s amazing how often individuals choose to go to work for a new boss without doing even the most basic of background checks. Bad leaders get into even the best of organizations, which means there are egotists and narcissists out there who feel lifted up when others fail, pit workers against each other, and relish in wielding unholy power. Before you accept a job with a new boss, ask a few friends who’ve worked with them about their reputation. Do they listen, do they care, do they develop others? Don’t think you can change a bad manager, you can’t.

3. Get some advice.

When things do get tough, or you are presented with an opportunity that looks promising, seek council. History’s most wise leaders all had councilors, and so should we. Seek the advice of people who have your best interests at heart: past leaders, mentors, and most of all friends and family. Trust their advice the most, just as I did with my wife Heidi. -Chester Elton

I’d love to read in the comments how you made it through a tough situation at work, or how you’ve tried to bullet proof your career against leadership changes.

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