I heard him as I was walking down the hall, “I can’t believe you screwed that up! You are so incompetent! Now I will need to stay late! Aarrgghh!”
As I entered the cubicle area, I saw him ride his broom into his office just as he slammed the door. (Okay, so I made the broom part up.)
I looked around to see if everyone else was horrified. They were not. While there was no way that anyone in the vicinity could have missed hearing the yelling, no one looked up from their desk or rushed out of their office. In fact, it was just the opposite. Everyone pretended to be doing their work so they wouldn’t be next in line for screaming and bullying. Yes, being yelled at like that is bullying.
The next week, I was at a different company and the executive director was furious. Her face was red and she was pounding the table at her monthly staff meeting. She shouted, “I am the executive director! I don’t need to put up with this!” I knew from working in this organization that everyone had heard that rant more than once before. Even I had heard it more than once.
It’s interesting. Most organizations have policies that state that this type of behavior will not be tolerated. When lower-level employees are unpleasant or harsh, they are often counseled or reprimanded, but when the IT guy who understands the legacy database starts screaming, no one does a thing. Why? “We can’t afford to lose him,” I hear when I ask.
Well, I hear it sometimes. A few great organizations say, “We need the IT expert, but we aren’t going to tolerate demeaning behavior.” When that happened in one organization I worked with, we met with the IT expert and set up a performance plan and a coaching plan. In six months, her behavior improved…a lot! And not only did her work behavior improve, but so did her home life. We are not different people at home and at work. When we become approachable and less volatile at work, that same behavior spills into our home, and vice versa.
Elizabeth Jeffries in her new book, What Exceptional Executives Need to Know states that “What You Permit, You Promote.” Whoa! When I read that, I thought, “How True!”
What does your organization permit that needs to stop? Let me know — I am interested in hearing.
When I was 16 years old, I wanted more cash. After all, what 16-year-old doesn’t? My father owned a small printing business, and he always needed more hands for collating. Before the invention of our current-day, all-the-bells-and-whistles copy machines, collating meant manually putting page 1 on top of page 2, on top of page 3, etc., about 10,000 times!
One steaming hot Appalachian morning, my dad lamented in our kitchen about how hot the shop would be. I said, “Well, why don’t you wear shorts?” He replied, “If I wear shorts, everyone (the employees) will start wearing shorts. Then they will start wearing halter tops and no shirts. Then customers will come in, and employees will go to greet them with shorts and no shirts.” Not good!
My dad, while a wonderful man and father, would not be the first person to interview if I were looking at top CEOs, but he understood the basic concept of role modeling, and he lived it.
All of us are leaders. We all look at the person in front of us in the check-out line, and if they throw trash on the floor, we have choices: we can also litter, we can ignore it, we can pick it up.
When we are at a heated ball game and the official makes a terrible call, we have choices about how to respond. Our choices are contagious and impact how others around us act.
All of us (okay, most of us!) talk a good game. Few would say, “I am a terrible parent, and let me tell you how I fail each day” or “I am a horrible manager. Let me tell you how I say one thing and do another.”
All of us want to believe that we are good role models and that our actions are consistent with our words.
Here are some of the inconsistencies that I see among leaders in organizations:
The senior executive who constantly talks about cost savings, but spends thousands on her golf outfits, her golf clubs, her golf membership, and then charges it all back to the organization.
The manager who praises the employee face-to-face, but then goes into the break room and pounds his fist on the table saying that “No one works around here!”
The employee who sits at meetings saying, “I support this company. I am eager to help,” but then takes new employees out to lunch and complains and denigrates the company, all in an effort to “protect new employees.”
What are the inconsistencies you see within your organization? Within your leaders? And most importantly, within yourself?
Is it time to reassess your office rules?
When I was in my twenties I went to visit my girlfriend Anne at her parents’ home on the Kilmarnock River. Once there, I found myself helping with their spring cleaning ritual, and a ritual it was! It included setting up their porch for outdoor summer relaxation. Down from the attic came bright chairs and tables, seat cushions, and a huge 1960s indoor-outdoor carpet. Trying to show initiative, I started to unroll it.
“Stop!” came a roar from their entire family. Startled, I froze. They explained, “We start unrolling from this corner, not that corner.” “Why?” I asked. The answer: Because that is the way it had always been done.
Now Anne’s family were loving and generous. They invited me to share their home and go out on their boat. They treated us to a crab feast and they lavished attention on us. They just had rules. Some made sense to me, and all made sense to them. I see the same phenomenon in many workplaces. Think about the rules that you have in your office. If you use the last of the paper in the copy machine, do you replace it or is it the job of the person who follows you? If the workday starts at 8:30, is it okay to arrive at 8:31 or even 8:51?
Of course we need rules, but problems arise when we don’t communicate and assess them. So ask yourself, “Are office rules serving you or are they getting in the way?” If you’re not sure, ask your colleagues — they will be happy to tell you if your rules are in their way!
Once you figure out the keepers, communicate them clearly and without judgment. I find starting with “I would appreciate it if…,” is a great way to get the conversation started.
Let me give you an example of a rule done right. In a workplace I frequent, there is a sign above the copier that reads, “Use the second tray and input this code, or the copier will jam.” I appreciate that clarity. I don’t want to be the one who jams the printer and creates a big hassle. And that is really the litmus test for good rules: Do they make the workplace a more efficient, friendly, and productive environment for everyone?
What are some of the rules in your workplace, written or unwritten?