Story goes that in the late 1700’s in France Marie Antoinette uttered those words in response to the fact that the people of the nation had no bread and were starving.  Whether true or not, is immaterial.  The central message was that the monarchy was out of touch with the needs of the people, which was a critical element in the overthrow of the government.

 …the balance has moved far in the direction favoring business and leadership, at the expense of employees, and, at times, other stakeholders.

This week I was having dinner with some friends…in France actually…and we were remarking that despite years of evolution of human rights in the workplace, and the training, growth and change in that regard, the workplace seems to be returning to one of disconnected leadership and essentially what boils down to beating employees for higher and higher levels of performance.  By beating we meant that longer and longer hours are expected, wages are not keeping pace with cost of living, companies are cutting back on benefits in the interest of saving money, etc.  While we all acknowledged that these are necessary actions that leaders must take at times, the balance has moved far in the direction favoring the business and leadership, and at the expense of employees, and, at times, other stakeholders.

What I find absolutely inconceivable is that many leaders fail to even imagine the consequences of this type of action.

I learned a long time ago that if you mistreat employees, they will find a way to get you back.  They will steal…time, money, products, supplies, etc.; they will be careless in their work and make costly mistakes; they will blow the whistle to regulatory authorities about violations; they will do damage in the workplace to facilities; they will speak badly in public about the organization and create a bad reputation for the company.  There are numerous ways in which they will harm you back.  Other stakeholders may take even more dramatic steps…customers and suppliers may stop doing business with you, regulators may shut you down.

Why is this becoming so much the norm in leadership behavior these days?  Is it arrogance, personal agendas, pressure to meet one stakeholders’ needs, or just being out of touch?  Personally, I think it is all of the above though some leaders may excel in one particular shortcoming.

I have learned through over 30 years of experience, my own and what I have observed in others’, that if you make the effort to represent all your stakeholders, listen to them and understand their needs and interests, and balance your efforts to meet those needs even though some may be conflicting, you are able to harness the energy and support of all your stakeholders to the goals and objectives of the organization…and to you as a leader.  Of course, you have to recognize that there are times when have to make trade-offs between conflicting needs.  You have to have the clarity and strength of conviction to make those trade-offs and communicate them to all stakeholders with confidence.  Difficult?  Absolutely!  Is everyone always happy with those decisions?  Absolutely not!  But, by making the effort to meet those needs and expectations as an element of improving performance and moving your organization forward, you get greater commitment, motivation, and performance from all your stakeholders, and better and more sustainable results.

How often do you consider the needs and interests of your different stakeholders in calibrating your actions or explaining your decisions as a leader?  Do you know who your stakeholders are…internal and external?  Do you know how satisfied they are?  Think about it…