Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Good leaders know what they value and what their values are, and they recognize the importance of ethical behavior. The great leaders consistently and recognizably exhibit their values and ethics in their leadership style and actions. But what about the values that your organization declares it honors in corporate brochures, office posters and standard desktop screen-savers?
I think every leader would like to say that they are shining examples of these values. In fact every leader has a responsibility to be. Company values go hand in hand with the culture; they are an attempt to steer the culture towards the brand of the organization – both the internal brand (epitomizing the employee proposition) and the external brand (epitomizing the customer proposition.) Why? Because leaders set the tone of the workforce – they set the standard of behavior of all followers.
But how does a leader know if they really are living their company values? Do you?
Good leaders care to find out if their behaviors are aligned to the company values. But great leaders don’t wait to find out until after damage has been done. Barry Clark, a Project Manager for a Canadian law firm, describes how he found out:
I genuinely believed until recently I was a model corporate citizen – I demonstrated integrity, I challenged myself to excel, I treated colleagues with respect and I treated my customers fairly. For three years I went about my business with this sense of assurance – hey I was a role-model. Well so I thought… it was a surprise when reviewing 360-degree feedback to find out I was wrong. What I heard from several colleagues was that I was causing a great deal of confusion amongst my staff, particularly the staff, who I would reprimand them for behaviors they had in fact learned from me! The worst of it: the organizational value I compromised to cause the most excitement was ‘we listen so we can learn.’ I’d been told many times before, apparently, that I was difficult to talk to because I would get defensive and fly off the handle. The effect of this was a growing lack of trust and credibility… I wasn’t even aware of it.
Barry learned the hard way that feedback is an important mechanism for finding out how you live the values. Until then he had trusted his own judgment of his behaviors, and become complacent. Assessing your own integrity to values is flawed if you’re not blessed with an acute awareness of your behavior.
But in one way, Barry is lucky. He is in a position in where he can gather feedback from around his sphere of influence without too much ‘respect’ getting in the way, i.e. the people giving the feedback were comfortable in giving it straight. Barry isn’t in a position of great power and latitude. He can’t fire people if he gets pissed off with them.
The unlucky ones are the senior IT leaders who desire feedback. Respect by followers and subordinates often means fear creeps in and feedback is less direct and more dilute. This happens, despite all the claims of having an ‘open-door’ policy… ‘I’m not an ogre, you guys’ . Truth is, the quality and quantity of constructive behavioral feedback given to the higher ranks diminishes the higher you get. The very people who need to demonstrate values the most are the same people who get the least feedback on how they are doing, except when it is too late . Crazy.
Marshall Goldman on his blog (if you can read through the control characters that are on there at the moment) discusses how leaders don’t always exhibit the behaviors espoused by the values, and should above all seek feedback from their employees on their behavior. Marshall says
Rather than wasting time on reinventing words about desired leadership behavior, companies should ensure that leaders get (and act upon) feedback from employees, the people who actually observe this behavior. Rather than wasting time on changing the words on performance appraisal forms, leaders need to learn from employees to ensure that they are providing the right coaching.
I don’t have a solution to this problem, just in case you were expecting one. Well maybe I do; and that is, as a corporate citizen and a leader in a position where company values are to be exhibited and expected, you need to remember that this happens. Your self-awareness (done best through feedback) must grow as you’re promoted, as at each stage you’ll be less informed, by default, about the impact of your behavior in constructive ways.