“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” – Theodore Roosevelt
A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation that I feel like I’ve had 50 times before. I was visiting with a local service provider and talk eventually turned to what they viewed as their key barrier to growth. In their minds, it was a lack of accountability from their employees. People didn’t do things they agreed to do, people didn’t follow company policies and procedures, people didn’t always treat each other with respect, etc. Apparently this had been going on for quite a while.
As is usually the case with conversations like that, eventually it became a depressing session of complaining about people in general, young people in particular, lack of work ethic, etc. They spent what seemed like forever trying to figure out why they didn’t get better behavior from their staff.
They asked me what I thought and here’s the short version of my answer: it’s your fault. When the people in your organization are acting in a way that you don’t think is acceptable, chances are it’s because of you. And there are two likely reasons why.
First – you’re not modeling the behavior you want from your people. If you’re a parent, you know that “Do as I say, not as I do” rarely leads to the behavior you want. The same thing is true professionally. Don’t complain that your staff doesn’t follow through on commitments if you don’t either. Don’t complain that your staff doesn’t follow company policies & procedures if you don’t either. Don’t complain that your staff doesn’t treat each other with respect if you don’t treat them with respect either.
You’re the leader. Your behavior has to be better than what you want out of your staff, because the best you can hope for is that they try to match what you’re doing. Being the leader doesn’t mean you have the freedom to do whatever you want. It really means you have to be more conscious than anyone else of what you’re doing. Like it or not, you’re the role model.
Second – you’ve told your people that their bad behavior is OK. “I’ve never done that,” you’re saying to your computer screen right now. I’d argue that all too often that’s exactly what leaders do. If someone in your organization – regardless of that person’s role – behaves in a way that’s not acceptable, and you don’t do anything about it, you’re telling everyone else that behavior is OK.
You cannot let poor behavior go unaddressed. You don’t have to throw a public tantrum about it, but if you do nothing you certainly can’t complain when others copy the same poor behavior. You have to deal with problems when they happen and make it clear to everyone in the organization what is and isn’t OK.
Think about your people. Are you modeling the behavior you want from them? Are you addressing performance issues as they happen? If you can’t answer “yes” to both of those questions, then guess who’s responsible for your trouble?