By S. Chris Edmonds, SmartBlogs Contributor
Leaders, are you seen as “of the people” you have chosen to lead or as separate from them?
I understand that leaders have unique responsibilities. They carry a different, often greater load than employees who do not formally manage people, departments or divisions. However, that greater burden does not grant leaders freedom from connection with those they’re charged with leading.
Think of your Great Bosses, leaders who inspired you to strong performance as well as consistent engagement in your work and with your peers. Your best boss wasn’t insulated from you and your team members, right? It is likely that your best boss was consistently present, consistently listening and learning from you, and consistently tweaking the work environment to reduce employee frustration.
Leaders who separate themselves are typically seen as aloof and uncaring about their employees. There is commonly more cynicism and less trust of leaders who do not foster proactive connections with staff.
Trust, in general, of leaders is low. The 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer found that less than one-fifth of the general public (globally) believes business leaders and government officials will tell the truth when confronted with a difficult issue.
Sometimes the trappings of the office separate leaders from those they’re charged with inspiring. I have some clients who provide executives with special parking, closest to the front office door. Still other clients have executive dining rooms. These and other “perks” separate executives and serve to discourage face-to-face interactions between leaders and employees.
Pope Francis is proactively resisting the trappings of his office in the Vatican. He wears a common frock, not the luxurious silk costumes of his predecessors. He lives in a simple two-room apartment in a Vatican hotel, not in the official palatial papal residence. His choices indicate his firm belief that he can serve best by being one of the flock, not a pampered executive.
Two experiences come to mind. A client created a leadership development program for mid-level directors and managers that was highly regarded. Over a year in length, monthly programs helped build self-knowledge as well as leadership skills among participants. The problem? The executives of the organization funded the program but refused to participate. They felt they “didn’t need leadership development.” The senior leaders of this organization separated themselves — intentionally — from learning and growing as leaders. The message to directors and middle managers? Apply these concepts within your own teams. but don’t expect your executives to demonstrate the best practices you’re learning.
Another client was undergoing a culture shift. The previous CEO was a bull in a china shop who reinforced siloed thinking, aggressive treatment, and pitting people against each other. When the new CEO came in, he knew the culture needed refinement. The executive team embraced his vision and, with my guidance, drafted valued behaviors that translated the organization’s long-established values into measurable, observable actions. At a global leaders conference, executive team members hosted roundtable discussions about the new valued behaviors, addressing concerns and fears about how these behaviors would be lived, monitored, and reinforced.
The entire executive team engaged in a panel discussion, responding to questions from their next-level leaders — tough questions, at times — in front of the whole group.
These two activities strengthened connections between these senior leaders and their direct reports. The message to their global leaders? Your executive team members are embracing these behaviors. Hold them accountable, and please model these behaviors, as well.