Archive | November, 2011

Leaders Condemn or Condone Behavior

Thursday of last week was the USA’s Thanksgiving holiday. The day typically includes family, food, and pro football, all three in great quantities.

A play during one game revealed the responsibility that leaders have to hold their staff accountable for desired behavior, at all times.

You may search YouTube for video clips of the play. Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh slams the Green Bay Packers player’s head to the turf – twice – then stomps on his opponent’s arm in anger. The referees penalized the Lions for Suh’s unsportsmanlike conduct and ejected Suh from the game.

The NFL has not yet announced whether Suh’s behavior will earn him a fine or suspension (I think both are required in this case). What prompts this post was a comment that ex-coach Bill Cowher made about the incident. Cowher said, “The coach either condemns or condones a player’s behavior. It’s up to the coach to quash behavior he doesn’t want on the field and encourage behavior he does want on the field.”

 Leaders Drive What Behavior is OK in the Workplace

We see this happen all too often in organizations. Leaders typically focus entirely on performance and results. They do not naturally emphasize HOW results will be accomplished, which requires defining what values and behaviors “good corporate citizens” must demonstrate in the workplace.

The result of this “performance-only” emphasis? Blanchard’s research and experience indicates that:

  • Performance occurs most consistently when the boss is watching. Performance is inconsistent when the boss is not present.
  • People treat internal and external customers as “less-than-equal” more often than not.
  • Power struggles occur, driven by managers and staff, which creates a workplace of fear and intimidation.
  • The application of discretionary energy by employees towards goal accomplishmen is rare; too often it is absent.

Great Leaders Are BOLD about Performance and Values Expectations

Leaving values to chance means leaders see a wide range of behaviors in their workplace. If a leader want a high performing, values-aligned team, that leader must create the foundation with clear goals AND clear valued beahviors.

All sports teams start with the same ultimate goal – winning the championship. What separates good teams from great teams is not exclusively the clarity of the goal and each team member’s commitment to that goal – it is goal clarity and team commitment to great team practices that enables consistent team performance and values alignment.

Here is a terrific example of a pro team’s ground rules. The Stalulfur Football Team in Iceland’s Division 3 league outlines sixteen specific “citizenship” practices. Imagine if Suh was a player on a team with these valued behaviors so clearly defined. Ground rules such as “play with discipline and enthusiasm,” “put the team first,” and “show respect for opponents, officials, and fans” might drive different behaviors from Suh on the field.

Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is at a crossroads. Will he continue to condone Suh’s behavior or will he condemn it, demanding exceptional sportsmanship from all players on the field and off? Only time will tell.

What is your experience with “unsportsmanlike conduct” in the workplace? Add your thoughts in the comments section below.

Download your FREE excerpt of Chris’ newest book, #CORPORATE CULTURE tweet.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Great Leaders Do Not Lie.

Recently, I overheard two frontline supervisors talking about a meeting they attended a few days earlier. At that meeting, senior leaders of the division shared upcoming plans (layoffs) for cutting expenses. The senior leaders explained that they would announce the plan in a week, once the details were ironed out. The senior leaders closed the meeting with the demand that nothing be said about the upcoming layoffs.

One supervisor said to the other, “What are we going to do? We can’t tell our direct reports what we know.”

Told to Play Dumb

The concerned supervisor – not as tenured as the supervisor he was talking to – said, “When something like this gets announced, my team members are convinced that I knew what was coming. Sometimes I do – but like at this meeting, I’ve been told to ‘play dumb.'”

I cannot pretend to understand all the dynamics at play in every organization on the planet. However, I am quite confident that great leaders do not lie. Nor do they ask their managers to lie. The costs are simply too great.

Lies Create a House of Cards

When a senior leader is discovered to have lied, those lies erode:

  • Trust – followers learn that they cannot trust what those leaders tell them. If some of what they hear turns out to be untrue, they quickly go to the assumption that “little of what we hear is true.” That perception becomes fact to those players.
  • Respect – followers feel disrespected because senior leaders have not trusted them with the potential “bad news.” When key plans, decisions, and actions are withheld from employees, respect dims quickly.
  • Credibility – senior leaders’ plans, decisions, and actions tell followers exactly what the senior leaders’ values are. If those leaders do not “do what they say they will do,” their credibility is lost. Un-credible leaders inspire fear and mailaise, not confidence and accomplishment.

Without trust, respect, and credibility, little discretionary energy will be applied to workplace project, goals, and tasks. These issues can take years to recover from – if a senior leader can recover, at all.

Be Honest & Transparent

One lie begets ten other lies which support the first. It gets complicated to keep track of who was told what! Don’t spend your time juggling lies; spend your time being honest and transparent.

Honesty & transparency means you let your team know what the context is for your plans, decisions, and actions. Educate others about the issues and opportunities before you – and do so regularly, not right before a tough decision gets announced.

Education about the business issues and opportunities you face enables talented staff to put their brains to work – and they may surprise you with a different way to solve problems with less impact on your workforce, your customers, or your stakeholders.

If you can’t be honest & transparent – and there are scenarios where you cannot disclose details of every possibility – what should you do? The conversation between the two supervisors ended when the more experienced supervisor put his hand on the shoulder of the concerned supervisor and said, “I tell them what I can. If I’ve been told that I cannot tell details, I explain that I’ve not been given the authority to  disclose what our senior leaders are considering. My team may not be happy about it, but at least I’m not saying ‘I don’t know’ – which is a lie.”

I couldn’t have said it better. What is your experience with untruths in the workplace? Add your thoughts in the comments section below.

Download your FREE excerpt of Chris’ newest book, #CORPORATE CULTURE tweet.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Values Must Be Lived, Not “Visited”

The horrible acts allegedly committed by an ex-Penn State football coach here in the USA have taken over the headlines in newspapers and newscasts each day over the last week.

The ex-coach is charged with forty counts of sexually abusing eight young boys over a 15-year period. The grand jury report is available online.

My greatest concerns are for the victims and whether or not the parties that observed or heard about the ex-coach’s acts did everything they could to protect those young boys.

The fallout from the investigation has been heavy. The long-time – and revered – football coach, Joe Paterno, was fired, as was the university’s athletic director, vice president for finance and business, and the president.

My mentor, Ken Blanchard, refers to the “Ethics Check” in his excellent How We Lead blog post about the Penn State scandal. In this post, I want to take a different tack: What are Penn State’s values, and how are students and staff held accountable for those values?

Say What You Mean

Most organizations do not clarify what “good citizens” look, act, and sound like. Unfortunately, most organizations focus primarily on results, not on member citizenship. Yet the organizations we love to love have very distinct cultures with clear values expectations; those include Disney, Virgin, Apple, ASDA, and Harley-Davidson, among others.

Penn State has a set of Principles, where desired attitudes and behaviors are outlined. Their principles include:

  • I will respect the dignity of all individuals within the Penn State community.
  • I will practice academic integrity.
  • I will demonstrate social and personal responsibility.
  • I will be responsible for my own academic progress and agree to comply with all University policies.

The definitions are thorough for each of these principles (though I would like to see behavioralized definitions that describe tangible, observable demonstrations of these principles).

I think the principle that outlines “social and personal responsibility” is one that would have guided different behaviors from University leadership regarding the ex-coach’s transgressions – if those leaders had been held accountable for all Principles.

The problem with Penn State’s “Principles” statement is that they let everyone off the hook with these two statements: “At the same time, the University is strongly committed to freedom of expression. Consequently, these Principles do not constitute University policy and are not intended to interfere in any way with an individual’s academic or personal freedoms.” (italics mine)

Mean What You Say

In a blog post earlier this year I described the crystal clear values accountability in place at another USA educational institution: Brigham Young University. BYU states clearly that to participate and graduate, students must demonstrate behavior in alignment with the school Honor Code, both on or off campus.

No ifs, ands, or buts. Align to the BYU Honor Code, or leave the school.

I believe that if Penn State had made alignment to the University’s Principles a requirement, the ex-coach’s behavior would not have been tolerated by any staff who observed or heard about these incidents.

Mean what you say. Be clear about what a good corporate citizen looks, acts, and sounds like. Don’t be bashful – be bold. You’ll enjoy better productivity, increased cooperative interaction, fabulous values demonstration, and . . . you’ll sleep better.

What do you think about “living your company values”? Share your insights, comments, and questions in the comments section below.

Download your FREE excerpt of Chris’ newest book, #CORPORATE CULTURE tweet.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

New Leadership Role? Here’s Your 90-Day Plan.

A friend recently accepted a senior leadership position in an established organization. She asked for my suggestions on how to “put her best foot forward” in her new job.

My proposed 90-day plan enables the leader to 1) learn the organization’s perception of it’s purpose and strategy, 2) clarify desired expectations for all players, and 3) align plans, decisions, and actions to best serve customers, stakeholders, and staff.

Your First 30 Days’ Mantra: LEARN

The first phase is one of observation. Resist the urge to “fix things” immediately. The leader must gather data, through written documents and interviews, regarding the organization’s current purpose, values, strategy, and goals.

The leader needs to understand how the organization is structured today, what staff and volunteers believe the organization’s customers need, and how well those needs are being met. What are the details of the organization finances? Neutral, factual data help highlight the current operation’s strengths and opportunities.

The leader needs to learn about their players – staff and volunteer roles, their passions and skills, and even their social styles. Finally, the leader needs to share their leadership point of view with their team: their philosophy, their expectations of others, what others can expect of them.

Your Second 30 Days’ Mantra: CLARIFY

This phase requires putting expectations into place. Expectations may be refinements of existing plans or they may be more formal outlines. The leader must describe WHAT targets are and HOW team members will deliver on those targets.

The leader must first formalize the organization’s vision, values, valued behaviors, strategies, and goals. Valued behaviors define what a “good citizen” looks, sounds, and acts like in the organization. The leader shares all these with team members and secures team member commitment to them. Plans, decisions, and actions that serve the organization’s vision, values, strategies, and goals are supported; those that don’t, are not.

The leader then engages team members in discussions to gain agreement about their individual goals and standards, and describes accountability systems to ensure goal delivery by every player (including the leader!).

Your Third 30 Days’ Mantra: ALIGN

The final phase of my recommended 90-day plan requires the leader to align activities to declared expectations. Effective accountability means the leader utilizes a combination of positive consequences and negative consequences to maintain traction towards desired outcomes and citizenship by all team members.

Positive consequences may include praising progress and accomplishment, honoring teamwork and cooperation, delegating earned authority and responsibility, and increasing trust of a team member’s independent action.

When the “playing field” is well-defined (vision, values, strategy, and goals are clear), talented team members streamline processes, solve problems, and increase efficiency.

Negative consequences may include clarifying goal standards, redirecting to ensure the team member understands how the work is to be completed, reinforcing valued behaviors, and, when necessary if talented team members do not apply skills, reprimanding to clarify expectations and deadlines. NOTE: never reprimand a learner – if a team member hasn’t demonstrated required skills, the leader needs to be in “skill building/coaching” mode.

If, after coaching, a team member is still unable to perform to standard or to behave according to the organization’s valued behaviors, progressive discipline is in order. If that doesn’t align behavior, lovingly set the team member free (from employment with your organization).

Following these three keys over 90 days will enable many leaders to increase clarity, align activities, and create discretionary energy in their organization.

What is your “first 90 days” experience as a leader? Share your insights, comments, and questions in the comments section below.

Download your FREE excerpt of Chris’ newest book, #CORPORATE CULTURE tweet.


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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