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Corporate America Gets a Makeover: Author/Speaker Kyle McDowell Helps Fortune 500 Leaders to Embrace the Power of WE

Corporate America is broken. On the one hand, large companies continue to drive exciting innovation, create stable jobs, and provide benefits for millions of families and individuals across the country. On the other hand, say the word “corporate,” and even the biggest lover of suits and board meetings will roll their eyes. What gives? “It’s an interesting question because the answer isn’t what you expect,” says leadership expert Kyle McDowell. “You have to remember that when people are sitting out in the parking lot, dreading the moment they have to go inside and start their work day, it’s not the building they are staring at that’s the problem. It’s the massive disconnect between leaders and team members that’s creating a disillusioned and apathetic workforce. For decades and especially since the dawn of social media, our fixation with ‘I’ and ‘me’ has been the overwhelming focus for most – including corporate America. We must replace ‘I’ and ‘me’ with ‘WE.’”

“WE”-oriented leadership inside America’s biggest companies? After generations of CEOs and senior executives who helped build industry giants with a “my way or the highway” approach, McDowell understands the eyebrows that just went up. Yet, he is traveling the United States and speaking to thousands of leaders and their teams about the growth and creative energy that are unleashed when they embrace a new leadership model that goes against how corporate leaders have rolled for years.

McDowell speaks from the unique perspective of someone who readily admits the mistakes he made as a leader during his 30-year career, including at Bank of America, UnitedHealth Group, and CVS Health. He watched how his bosses led by fear and intimidation and automatically copied their approach.

“I should have thought more about this, obviously, but it was just the way leadership was done,” he remembers. “By embracing it, I hit my goals for the company and continued to climb, which was great, but what I wasn’t doing was inspiring my team members.”

One day, it really hit him: he was at the top of his career and had the salary and title. However, it had come at a price – he had no real connection with his team members. Worse, his own leadership approach was contributing to the apathy he saw on their faces.

“What kind of leader was I really?” McDowell asks. “I was leading thousands of people and supposedly doing everything correctly, but why wasn’t I inspiring my teams to take creative risks or think outside of the box? I loved to lead, and I loved corporate America. But, honestly, I was part of the problem. It was time to take a time-out and figure out who I wanted to be as a leader and how I could empower my teams.”

McDowell got to work almost as soon as he took off his golden handcuffs. Over the months to come, he spent a lot of time thinking about the divide between executives and their teams. Ultimately, it came down to what he calls “The Leadership Gap”: it was impossible to be an effective leader when you were keeping your team members a mile away.

“The solution came to me one night in a Kansas hotel room, where I was preparing to speak to 50 leaders of my organization,” he says. “The way to erase that gap was to foster a ‘WE’-mindset inside every corporation. It was time to throw out the stick and lead authentically. I had to drop my ego to realize ‘I’ would only find true success, true fulfillment, with ‘WE’.”

Excited, he grabbed a notepad and started jotting down a list of principles that would help teams and leaders to come together to innovate even more for companies, including:

  1. WE do the right thing. Always.
  2. WE lead by example.
  3. WE say what WE’re going to do. Then WE do it.
  4. WE take action.
  5. WE own our mistakes.
  6. WE pick each other up.
  7. WE measure ourselves by outcomes. Not activity.
  8. WE challenge each other.
  9. WE embrace challenge.
  10. WE obsess over details.

“Corporations already had the talent. They had the people with the right skills to do their jobs. What they didn’t have was team members who felt inspired when they came into work each day,” McDowell explains. “By shifting to ‘WE,’ leaders would come alongside their teams and help them grow into their best selves. Everyone would know exactly what was expected of them and would feel valued. Personally, I know that leadership like that would get me out of my car every day as soon as I turned off the ignition.”

The real test, of course, was the reaction of his team members to The 10 WEs. The next day, when he presented the list to them, he was gratified by their enthusiasm and realized that all of corporate America could benefit from rethinking the relationships between teams and leaders.

The 10 WEs resonated so strongly, McDowell decided to pen his first book, Begin With We: 10 Principles for Building and Sustaining a Culture of Excellence, which has achieved bestseller nods from USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. But he didn’t write the book for the money. “I’ve seen the power of principle-based leadership and how choosing to lead differently can have a profound impact, transforming bosses to real leaders,” says McDowell. “It’s my life’s purpose to spread this message.”

Corporations have so many of the pieces already in place. “They have the vision, the resources, and the talent,” says McDowell. “Until now, however, leaders have been growing their companies with one hand tied behind their back. They care so deeply about tapping into their teams for the good of the corporation and society. Now, with WE, they can really do that.”

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