Leader or Reluctant Role Model?

When the pressure is on it is easy to forget those 'niceties' and hide behind a 'Gordon Ramsay' type of behaviour under the (misguided) belief that as long as your intentions are good, your behaviour can be forgiven. However as Stephen Covey says, it takes a lot of good behaviour to undo a single episode of poor behaviour (roughly 10 good deeds to repair the damage of one bad one).

Leaders are visible across the whole business, everyone comes into contact with them and how they behave is noticed, not just in business meetings, but also at social events and in personal interactions. Let's face it, the higher up the organisation you go the more visible you are and the greater the likelihood that people will remember you, (whilst in contrast,  you may be left scrambling in your mind to place their faces). This means you get noticed, as does your behaviour. So whether you want it or not, you are a role model. How you behave will shape the culture of your organisation. 

The following five behaviours will help you build a culture of respect and demonstrate you have an ethical approach in how you do business. 

Turn up to meetings prepared 

People often talk about the importance of turning up to meetings on time, and it is important. However, more important is being prepared when you get there. People forgive someone who is a bit late if they have a valid excuse and are 'on the ball' when they arrive. Being on time but not prepared just gives the impression that you are not interested and you think your time is more precious than others who have prepared well. 

Now I know some of you will say you are short of time and preparing for meetings is not always possible, but there are things you can do to be prepared: 

  • Block out time to prepare in your calendar, just as you block out time for the meetings themselves. Identify the questions you wish to ask, ensure you are clear on the key purpose of the meeting, be clear why you are going and how you can contribute. Also, you know who else is going to be there (and perhaps who you will need to talk to off line).
  • Don’t accept every meeting request you get. Be discerning, if necessary go back and ask why you need to attend and what preparation is going to be helpful.
  • Don’t be shy about asking for a timed agenda and see if you can attend for just the agenda items you are needed for and not the whole meeting. 

Acknowledge important Emails and (online forum posts) 

The chances are your email inbox is overflowing; you are time poor and will not be able to answer each email as it comes in, no matter how important it is. People who are really respected in business acknowledge receipt of important emails so that the sender knows it has been received. They also say when they will read it in detail and when they will get back with a response (and then they do so). 

It is really easy to let emails fester in your inbox leaving the sender confused as to why you are silent. If the sender is being really helpful then they will have called you to  draw your attention to it (assuming it is not something you can just handle by telephone anyway!). This is something you can also do if you are sending important emails. Remember, sending an email is not communication it is the receipt, interpretation and subsequent response which form the communication. 

Sometimes you will get an email which makes your blood boil - it is poorly written, you jump to conclusions about subtext, others have been copied in and so on. Here are some things to help you respond appropriately: 

  • Never fire an email back in anger, if necessary draft one but return to it much later when you have had chance to calm down - then edit it. Take out the emotion and stick to facts, assume good intent until you have checked out your interpretation.If necessary phone the person and talk to them. They may not have intended their email to cause upset, they may have worded it poorly, and they may assume you have other knowledge which you do not. Again assume positive intent from others until proved otherwise.
  • Be careful and thoughtful about whom you 'CC' into your emails. Firstly this fills up other people's in boxes, so be clear they need to see it. Secondly, consider if rather than 'cc'ing them in you should include them in the main distribution list. Also, if your email contains opinion, others may not share your views and you may be alienating a wide band of people, use the 'CC' function wisely and discerningly.
  • Online forums are informal in nature but people still take them as fact. Be careful what you post online as it can come back to haunt you. Don't post anything online that you would be uncomfortable seeing on the front page of a tabloid!  

Give credit where credit is due 

This is a simple one to remember but so important. Don't steal other people's thunder, if they did the work, acknowledge their contribution and effort. Remember the minor contributors as well, for example if someone introduced you to another person and it led to a successful outcome you could say 'if Bill hadn't introduced us we wouldn't be here today…'. A good lesson to learn was from the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony when the Olympic flame was paraded past a guard of the 500 workers who had built the site - a great lesson in remembering those who worked behind the scenes.  

So some quick reminders: 

  • Give credit where credit is due.
  • Do not steal others thunder.
  • Remember people warm to humility and shy away from false pride.

Really listen to, and acknowledge, others points of view (even and especially if, they differ to yours!) 

How often have you sat in a meeting where people are throwing their opinions around the table, barely listening to others and just waiting for the current speaker to draw breath so they can jump and say their piece? This 'grand-standing' is not conducive to good working and means that the  winning solution is the one which is not shouted down. But this may not be the right solution. Really listening to others means ensuring you are attentive, having good body language (eye contact, nodding) and asking relevant questions to help you (and others) understand what is being proposed, rather than offering reasons why the idea should be dumped. 

Here are some things to consider: 

  • If you are chairing a meeting, ensure people get time to speak without being interrupted or shouted down. 
  • Encourage everyone to share their opinions on what is being said.
  • Avoid interrupting others and discourage interruptions by others, let people have their say.

Work from a perspective of exploration. Rather than responding with 'no' and 'but', try asking questions to explore your understanding of what is being said. Questions like 'how would that work within the accounts department', 'who has been consulted to date on this proposal' and so on, help people think things through without appearing confrontational (and making them defensive). 

When things go wrong (and they will), don't take it out on others 

You may have witnessed the door banging, foot stomping, desk pounding, shouting, sulking, pouting and being generally difficult - behaviour in others. You may even have resorted to it yourself occasionally, but it never leads to others thinking more highly of you. 

Remember this is a small world, the chances are you will see people again and it is the bad behaviour they remember. 

 Leaders are always role models, and how role models behave when things go wrong really sets the culture for the organisation. Here are some tips: 

  • Be careful who you confide in if things are really getting you down or making you angry. 
  • Talk to a mentor or a peer but do not let off steam and rant uncontrollably to your staff and those who look to you for direction.
  • Be prepared to walk away from a situation rather than compromise if it will cause ill feeling. People respect those who can look objectively at a situation and are prepared to say 'I can see this may not work for you on this occasion, so let's not proceed at this time'. Often, given space and this kind of respect for their feelings, people are more likely to reconsider and offer a more collaborative solution.
  • If someone behaves badly around you then acknowledge that they are clearly upset but then suggest that the conversation is resumed later when everyone has had time to think about potential next steps. In other words take the wind out of the angry sales and create some space! 

These five behaviours are not rocket science but by following them you will role model how others need to behave, creating a much more collaborative and respectful working environment. What else could you role model in your organisation to influence positive behaviour change?