Forget About Letting Your Actions Speak For You
Typical leadership advice tells leaders that you want to be on the frontlines with your crew: the general leading his forces by being the first in the attack rather than staying back safely behind the battle lines.
While this might be great wartime advice, it often falls short in today’s workplaces. Simply put, your staff might be too busy to notice what you think you are modeling. You need to do more than just demonstrate your commitments through actions — you need to narrate your values and priorities as well.
When we started working together, one C-Suite leader spent a good part of her weekend catching up on work that was unfinished. One of my earliest suggestions was that she carve out daily strategic thinking time. Though at first she considered this impossible, through our work together she was able to better prioritize and cut down the meetings on her calendar, using her assistant to help her carve out that daily time. She even stopped working most weekends while still being able to focus her attention on higher priority organizational needs.
With much of her team residing in different locations, however, a drastic change for her had little impact on her direct reports. For them, their one-on-one and team meetings with her continued unchanged, and her growth didn’t translate into their growth.
At this point, my client realized she had to talk with her team directly about their work on weekends and how they prioritized their attendance to meetings and urge them too to block out enough strategic thinking time on their calendars. She even brought it to their team off-site and facilitated one animated discussion on how their behaviors impact their teams if they are emailing people on weekends.
Don’t get me wrong: Talking about your values is not a substitute for living them out. But, ironically, in our hyperconnected world of video conferencing and instant messaging, we often have fewer eyes on our behavior than we think, since others are running at 100 mph themselves.
This is why it’s important to talk with your team about what your values truly are and how you live them out at work. Then, make sure to find out what their values are, too. How are they living them? (Or are they living them? Conflicted employees generally aren’t fulfilled employees.)
What’s the best way you can do this?
Tell your team: “This is why I reacted to what you just did …”
Keep in mind, this is for the master ninja leaders out there. Your team will annoy you — guaranteed. The question is whether you can let them know exactly why. What values of yours did their behavior undermine? Often when leaders stop to reflect, the things that trigger them most violate one of their rules for themselves; lack of respectfulness, reliability, thoughtfulness and collaboration are common areas that fuel high levels of annoyance and resentment.
If you’re not yet ready to talk with your team about how they are triggering you, or it’s hard for you to put into words, here are three easier places to start.
Three Things To Tell Your Team ASAP:
• This is my value for work-life balance — for myself and for you.
Whether you demand 80-hour weeks and don’t believe in life outside of work or you believe your employees should not be emailing on weekends, it needs to be discussed. At the very least, the people who don’t resonate with your values will likely exit your team more quickly, leaving your fewer conflicts in this realm.
• This is how you can disagree with me.
Too often, I find that bosses who enjoy heated battles over next-step strategies intimidate their team into quiet submission rather than engaging in active debate. And, on the flip side, if you’re sensitive to conflict, you might find it easier to have dissenters approach you offline rather than calling you out in a larger meeting.
• This is how I encourage on-the-job growth.
What’s your approach to growth on your team? Do you encourage your team to take on other responsibilities within your organization? Do you like to know their plans so you can help them find their next job? Do you engage in frequent feedback for their growth or do you need to be asked before you want to volunteer it?
It turns out this articulation of values isn’t just valuable in the workplace. I realized a couple of years ago that when I was gone at night for volunteer events or board meetings, my kids believed it was just another work meeting for which I had missed dinner. I changed my narrative with my kids: I would tell them why I volunteered for the organizations I did and what values of mine it honored. Just like at work, our core values and motivations are often hidden from those we love.
Open these conversations at work and at home. As hard and awkward as it might initially feel, I know the discussions that follow will be worth it and even have the power to change long-standing dynamics. I would love to hear about your own experience with sharing your values both in your professional and personal life. Share your thoughts with me in the Comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!
This is an edited version of my article that first appeared on Forbes.com November 19, 2018