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?
This is a story of killing with kindness. Well, there isn’t any actual murder involved, but you’ll see what I mean.
About 30 years ago, when I was the director of training for a large national bank, I had the privilege of working with a kind, conscientious, and hardworking teller trainer named Donna.
She ran a two week training course for 15-20 tellers at a time. At the end of each day, a quiz reinforced the day’s teachings. After the two weeks, there was a comprehensive test. If the trainees passed the quizzes and the test, they would go into the branches for a six-week probationary period. If all went well, they would then become full-fledged tellers.
It was the bank’s policy that if a probationary employee had a shortage or overage, they were immediately terminated. One of the branch managers called me and asked me, as director of training, why so many tellers were ill-equipped when they came to his branch. As we did an analysis, we started to notice that several would-be tellers had suffered this fate.
I discussed this quandary with Donna and asked her to pull the fired tellers’ tests and quizzes. I began to notice a common thread: lots of eraser marks and crossed-out answers on the ex-employees’ papers. It was then that I learned that kind-hearted Donna was helping the struggling students with their tests.
I explained to her that we had a system in place — the tests and quizzes — that worked. But because she was ‘helping’ the tellers, it wasn’t working. She had to stop. She agreed.
Fast-forward eight months: Tellers were still getting fired during the probationary period. One teller had just purchased a car that he now was going to have to return, and another failed teller was going to have to break a lease on her apartment. In both cases, the two would-be tellers simply didn’t have the needed math skills, a fact that should have been evident on the tests. It was clear that Donna had helped them, and I called her on it. “I just want everybody to succeed,” she lamented.
My response: “Wouldn’t it have been kinder to those people if they had known in the first week of training that it wasn’t going to work out?”
She burst into tears. “I blew it.” Donna resolved to stop changing test results for the tellers, and our probationary firings decreased dramatically.
No one can blame Donna for doing what she perceived to be kind and compassionate. But in reality, her actions were just the opposite. When we work with people, it’s important to ask ourselves: “What is my motivation? Am I really serving the best interests of the employee?”
What employer policies do you have in your workplace that help employees?
At the risk of giving the impression that I’m a terrible driver, I would like to tell you about two very different encounters I have had with traffic cops. One afternoon after flying back from a presentation, I found my car in the parking lot and then I hit the road, excited to be close to home. No sooner had I merged into traffic on the highway when I heard a siren behind me.
“Do you realize you went through a stop sign?” asked the officer. I did not. In fact, I had thought it was a yield sign, like most on-ramps. While I was contrite, I was also curious as to why this particular on-ramp was designed this way. The officer showed no interest in engaging in conversation and handed me a ticket for failure to stop.
Many months later, a siren blared after I turned into a neighborhood from a busy road. The officer approached my car, looked at my license, and peered into the backseat where my two young children looked wide-eyed back at him.
“Mrs. Snyder,” he said firmly but empathetically, “I am concerned. You pulled very quickly into this neighborhood. You were exceeding the speed limit. What if you hit a child? It would ruin your life and the family of that child.” That message hit home. Even though my kids are now adults, to this day, I always slow down when I enter a neighborhood. That officer’s words still have an impact on me, these many years later.
Both of the officers used their power to pull me over, but only one used his influence to effect a positive, lasting change.
My question to you, as a leader, is this: Do you use your power effectively? Do you use your influence to effect a positive and lasting change?
When we fear someone, we do what they want us to do, quickly and in the moment – and when they are watching. But when we work with leaders who are influential and take the time and effort to connect with us, we take their direction to heart – even when they aren’t watching.
In fact, being a leader is something like being a traffic officer. You keep a watchful eye and you pull people over when you are concerned about their behavior. It is what you do next that determines if your employee will incorporate your direction into their work habits, or simply comply in the moment because it’s the path of least resistance.
If you’re having difficulty achieving lasting compliance, maybe it’s time to revisit your strategy – and we can help you do that.
Give us a call to learn more about our consultations and workshops.
I hope that you are enjoying our blog. If you have a business topic that you would like me to write about, I’d love to hear from you.