A number of years ago I was dealing with the behaviour of an executive colleague. For a number of reasons their conduct had been called into question and we were trying to unpick a somewhat difficult situation. Once it was all sorted I was amazed to hear other colleagues tell me that this had been a repetitive occurrence throughout their career.
Whilst they’d been more junior within the organisation, their behaviour had been an annoyance; troublesome but manageable. But as they progressed through the ranks (one can question the judgment of those that facilitated this rise) it started to be more damaging to the organisation as a whole, it created a bigger impression.
The closer to the sun you climb, the larger the shadow you cast.
I used this phrase last week to talk about the importance of leadership role models. It’s a factor that many leaders forget and therefore undervalue the potential benefit. To put it another way, as a leader you can choose to behave in a way that not only benefits those directly around you, but those further afield in your organisation.
With all the talk of authentic leadership, we forget to explore the reason why. What lies behind the value of authenticity? The simple answer is that people will engage and follow authenticity more readily. But I think it is even more important than that.
I can’t cite the evidence, but I was told recently about a study of people on London buses. They found that when a passenger alighted the bus and said “thank you” to the driver, the probability of other passengers doing the same increased. Similarly, the same has been seen with passengers giving up seats on trains or picking up litter in the street.
And at the same time, we know that if the person carrying out the act is in a perceived position of power, the effect is multiplied.
If you’re a leader in an organisation you have both an opportunity and responsibility to role model the behaviours that you want to see and to encourage them in every interaction. The power goes much further than any leadership development intervention, value statement or strategic model. And even better it costs nothing and can be deployed at will.
So what are you waiting for?
Last week I was thinking about a conversation at work that had really got my goat. It was one of those conversations that happens without warning, that you participate in and then when you walk away you stop and think, “how on earth did that happen?” And the more you think about it, the angrier you get and the more unfair the situation becomes.
That conversation happened over ten years ago.
I can remember it clearly, the room, the time of day, the individual involved. I can remember coming away and tasting mustard in my mouth – a sure sign that I felt distressed by the experience. And to this day I hold a feeling of unjustness about the circumstances.
I’m quite clear that I need to let go.
I should probably listen to the advice that I give to my kids when they tell me about someone saying something unfair – you have a choice, you can say something and challenge the person about what they’ve said, or you can move on and let it go. There’s nothing in-between that will help you.
I often see people at work who are still hung up on a conversation or situation that happened in their work history. They hold onto it but fail to do anything positive about it, instead it becomes a limiting reminder of how the universe is unfair. It becomes an anchor, unhelpfully holding them to a specific moment of time.
Being able to let go and move on is critical to remaining open-minded, to learning and growing, to progressing and developing. It is key to our mental wellbeing. So if there’s something that is holding you back, talk about it, get it off your chest, put it in the ground and then tramp the earth down. You’ll be better for it, believe me.
I was pondering this weekend on the essence of getting things done at work. Organisations are brilliant at creating structures and processes that are well-intentioned but can ultimately get in the way of actual activity. When things aren’t working the way we want, we lay another process on top to try to make sure that we get the intended result.
All of which led me to sketch out the following:
Which I think lays out the fundamentals of successful organisational activity.
Ultimately we want to have strong data and insight that allows us to understand the challenges and the options available. We need simple decision-making forums that allow the data to be discussed and actions agreed, which then have clear ownership. Wrapped around this we need to have an acceptance of accountability, responsibility for performance and the need to communicate and collaborate.
Everything else is just noise.
Seems simple when you write it out like that, doesn’t it? Or maybe I’ve missed something along the way.
When my kids were little I’d ask them to clear the table. In response they’d take their plates and put them on the side. As they grew older and with a little direction, they learnt to take other peoples’ plates too and maybe put the salt and pepper back in the cupboard. As young adults now, I consider it a win if on asking them to clear the table, they take the plates, cutlery and glasses and put them in the dishwasher, tidy away the condiments and wipe the table clear of any stains or spills.
The same instruction, different interpretations of completion.
Throughout our lives we are faced with tasks , some we are given and some we give to others. How often as leaders do we have a clear vision of completion without a clear articulating of the outcomes that we want to see? And how often do we find ourselves frustrated when we complete a task, only to be told that it doesn’t meet the requirements of others?
Our ability to successfully contract is critical to collaboration, to organisational efficiency and to the effective delivery of goals. We have to balance the clarity that we need to achieve desired outcomes, with the empowerment that is required to ensure engaged, motivated teams working with forward momentum. It’s a tricky balance. And of course, the onus is not on one party, but all of those involved.
So next time you’re handing out a task, project or objective, or alternatively next time you’re being asked to complete one. Consider what assumptions you’re making about the outcomes that you think are required. Have you clearly articulated what’s important and what is free to be determined? Being specific and clear at the beginning might take a little more time and thought, but ultimately it will improve the performance of your organisation or team.