What you do. . .
speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying. One of my mentors during my corporate days used to say that, “What interests my boss absolutely fascinates me!” And over the years I have said to several mentees, “Watch what your leader does. What she spends her time on, what he measures and where s/he puts money in the budget is more important than what they say.”
Yes, as a leader, you’re always on parade. All eyes are watching.
That is part of what it means to be on parade. But it isn’t only about the tactical things like resources. Being on parade also means stakeholders (employees, vendors, customers, investors) are watching to see how you live up to the values you claim to espouse. Do you treat everyone in a manner that affirms their dignity and worth? Do you allow autonomy by properly delegating? Are you making sure employees are growing in their technical and leadership competencies?
Given today’s concerns about sexual harassment and safety, do all employees — women, minorities, physically challenged — feel they are heard if they speak up about workplace conditions? Do you hold all employees at every level accountable to live up to the stated values of the organization?
Like it or not, you and all your leadership team members are on parade every day.
I believe that while this is a difficult thing to accept, it is right and appropriate. It’s hard to know that everyone is watching and still be natural. Yet, we all should be willing to demonstrate to ourselves and others that we do our best to live our values. Sure, we will all mess up. We are, I hope, only human.
AND They Listen Too:
The other part of this is the listening part. In order to know how your actions may deviate from your words, it is obvious that I also have to be listening to you. I hear what you say and watch what you do.
I have had more than one conversation with a leader who related a story about how she made an innocent comment during a casual conversation at work only to have a team member take the comment as “an order.” And then the team member is surprised when the leader is surprised at the actions taken. “That’s interesting, why are we doing that?” “Well, because you said to. Remember?” Ugh.
It’s a common story that while many organizations speak about how important their people are, the people are the first budge cuts when the organizations financials are under stress. We speak about developing our people and then slash the training and educational assistance programs. And it isn’t unusual for leaders to espouse how they want a safe environment while dragging their feet on workplace bullies. Or, worse yet, allowing those who harass others to remain because the harasser is hitting her/his performance numbers.
If we’re paying attention, we can see this mismatch in words and deeds throughout our society. Religious leaders whose personal lives are the antithesis of what they preach to their flocks. Political leaders who constantly spin what they are saying so that constituents believe they are being supported and heard — while the legislation does the opposite to ensure lobbyist donations. Large corporations who have wonderful sounding values and then fail miserably in the ethical operation of their business.
It’s a New Year:
This seems a good time for me to hold myself accountable for living according to my stated values. I want to double down on them because I believe my closely held values are good ones. I’m not one to make New Year resolutions; perhaps this year needs to be an exception. So I resolve to be more conscious of my actions and how they match my words.
How about you? How about your organization? No matter where you are in the formal organization chart, you are a leader. And all the eyes are watching. We’re always on parade.