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'Do as I say, not as I do' doesn't cut it any more

More and more, I hear managers express frustration over the behaviour of their subordinates. They complain about their failure to take initiative and responsibility, grumble about lateness to meetings or lousy teamwork.

But it's so much easier to point fingers elsewhere. For when it comes to their own behaviour, many of those same managers aren't acting any differently than the people they complain about.

Too few managers model what they demand from others. If you're a manager, ask yourself: How often do I seem to be saying one thing while doing another? How often am I practising what I preach?

Managers who want to stop giving out mixed signals need to hold up the leadership mirror and make sure they are satisfied with what they see being reflected back.

Here are some examples of common disconnects between what managers may say they want to see in others and how they actually behave themselves.

Teamwork

Most managers want individuals and departments to work together, yet many of those same managers will gossip about, put down or fail to support peers or other departments. They protect turf and build walls around their division or department. They openly discuss disagreements with peers or senior management -- sometimes to foster a form of "us" against "them."

Continuous improvement

Many managers who declare the virtues of continuous improvement slip behind in their own personal growth and development. They feel they are too busy or don't really need to upgrade themselves. Improvement is for everyone else.

Priority setting

Harried managers are allowing today's electronic tools and 24/7 culture to drive and control them. Poorly disciplined and overly busy managers fail to harness these powerful tools. Instead, they often model micromanagement by responding to every little issue and expecting subordinates to do the same. Such behaviour leads to short-term urgencies continually crowding out longer-term strategies and team or organization development.

Motivation

Workers are more disengaged and less committed to their organizations and the clients they serve. This morale problem is exacerbated by managers showing little visible passion or commitment to their own work. They fail to survey and diagnose what's turning people off and then engage them in solving those issues. When presented with morale surveys or other evidence of disengagement, these managers will often discount this input as "just their perception, not reality."

Taking ownership

I often hear managers complain that people in their organization won't accept personal responsibility for fixing problems or dealing with issues. These same managers then point fingers upward at more-senior management or others for personal or organizational problems. "We tried that before," "no one will listen," "there's nothing I can do," "why bother" and other such expressions of learned helplessness easily roll off their lips.

You can't act one way and expect others to act another way. Here are ways to help set the right example:

Be a team player

Don't discuss any disagreements you may have with peers, senior managers or other departments. Be careful of making disparaging comments about their decisions or actions. Address any issues with those people or groups directly; don't use critical or negative e-mails or public meetings to "send them a message."

Engage your team

Brainstorm issues by asking staff for ideas on the "dumbest things we do around here," "biggest barriers to reaching our goals," "major implementation issues we need to address," "pet peeves," "dumb rules and forms," "things that drive you crazy," or the like. Identify those things you or your team directly control, can influence or don't control at all. Discuss ways to fix the things you do control and get ideas and volunteers from the team to do the same for things you can influence. Discuss how you can all accept and let go of the things you can't do anything about.

Be strategic with your time

Take a critical look at your calendar and in-box or keep a time log. What are you so busy doing? There's a likelihood that many of the activities you're involved in don't need you to dive into such a level of detail. Are you solving the same problems over and over? Watch for recurring patterns. What are the root or common causes of issues? You are likely perpetuating the dependence cycle by not delegating or developing others to handle many of your daily operational issues.

Practise what you preach

Ensure you arrive for meetings or start them on time, give plenty of notice if you're cancelling or changing times, and show up prepared. Model the time management and respectful behaviour that you expect from everyone else. Analyze your calendar and meeting agendas for the past few months. Do they clearly reflect your top goals and priorities?

Train and be trained

Ensure that you and others are well trained in the "soft" leadership skill areas of coaching, communications, leading teams, running meetings and the like. Use the skills in your own meetings, coaching activities, and team decision making and planning. Help deliver that skill development.

Bridge we/they gaps

Search out and destroy the status symbols, perks or privileges that separate management from the workers. Find other ways to compensate managers or let those who need these symbols take their elitist insecurities to some other organization. Flatten corporate hierarchy and promote informality.

Step back to step ahead

The busier life gets, the harder it is to keep our effectiveness in perspective. One of the first things to go when we're pressed for time is personal development and renewal. But when we spend less time reflecting on what's working and what's not, we spend more time spinning our wheels. The faster and crazier our day gets, the less we stop and check to see that we're racing down the right road. That increases the chances that we need to spin our wheels even faster to keep up.

Break the cycle. Pause periodically on your own and with your team to check progress. Decide what you should keep, stop, and start doing, and refocus your efforts.

Jim Clemmer is a Kitchener, Ont.-based professional speaker, workshop/retreat leader and the author of Growing the Distance and The Leader's Digest.

Check your own behaviour

How to walk what you talk? Here are ways to check up on your own modelling behaviour:

When completing a subordinate's performance appraisal, ask for input on your own behaviour.

Run focus groups using a cross-section of people in your organization. Include a neutral facilitator who prepares a report summarizing the feedback.

Periodically do group assessments of your meeting effectiveness. Ask what you should keep, stop or start doing to make your work together more effective.

Get an assessment from external consultants based on some combination of surveys, reviews, focus groups and customer feedback.

Gather anonymous feedback on your behaviour from subordinates, peers, bosses and people served by your organization.

Network informally among peers in and out of your organization. Seek input on everything from personal observations to rumours they've heard about you.

Jim Clemmer

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