Out of Tune

F5L-mandolin-study“Change is the only constant in life” – Heraclitus, the pre-Socractic Greek philosopher

We experience this all the time in our workplaces, families, and communities. Yet we’re often surprised when things aren’t as we expect them to be.

In my free time, I’m a working musician. Summer is the Jones & Raine band’s busiest season.

One recent show was outdoors at Copper Mountain. Typical of Rocky Mountain summer weather, we enjoyed chilly winds, steady sprinkles, then the clouds would clear and we’d be in the hot sun for ten minutes. The cycle continued all afternoon.

I’d tuned my instruments before our set began and off we went. We move fast with little time between songs. The drawback is that, particularly outdoors, temperature and humidity wreak havoc on tuned strings. By the time I grabbed my 8-string mandolin for a song at the end of the hour-long set, it was no longer in tune.

“Musical” is not what I’d call the noise that emerged. When the first verse came around, I muted the mandolin and tuned as best I could in 20 seconds. It was better – but not fully in tune. I limped through the song.

In our workplaces, we expect everything to run smoothly. Yet just as temperature and humidity affects instrument tune, many variables can cause “out of tune-ness” at work.

Unclear goals. Personality conflicts. Changing customer demands. Selfish peers and bosses. Unfair expectations. All of these impact the quality of work done and the quality of the work environment.

If leaders make the assumption that everything is fine, they will miss the not-so-subtle cues of performance misses, team frustration, and poor service experiences for customers.

Leaders must be fully present and fully engaged to ensure the team – and every player – is playing “in tune.” They must notice gaps and issues, and promptly engage the team in resolving those gaps and issues. They must also notice and validate great team citizenship and cooperation so players understand how they are to work together to meet goals and WOW customers.

That’s what effective leadership is. It’s not purely about setting goals and monitoring results, though both of these are important leader behaviors. Leadership is about both creating workplace inspiration (with clear purpose, values, and behaviors) AND setting the course (strategies and goals) – every interaction, every day.

What do you think? When your leaders have let a team get “out of tune,” how did it impact team performance and engagement? How did your best bosses help keep the team – and its members – “in tune?” Note your thoughts and insights in the comments section below.

Add your experiences to two fast & free research projects I have underway: the Great Boss Assessment and the Performance-Values Assessment. Results and analysis are available on my research page.

My new book from Wiley, The Culture Engine, guides leaders to create workplace inspiration with an organizational constitution. Get your free sample chapter here.

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