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The Leader Sets the Tone

July 13, 2021

You’re at a work meeting. One of your co-workers is giving a Powerpoint presentation to 30 people from both your work unit and two other units in your organization. It took your co-worker two weeks to develop a technical presentation that’s part of a major corporate initiative.Your boss is there. He’s tense, because in the audience is his boss, plus two other senior managers.

Your co-worker, in your view, is doing a decent job presenting. But he’s nervous and has made a few minor stumbles. At each one your boss intervenes to correct your co-worker, and at one point mutters something about “…lack of preparation.”

The two other managers have been glancing at their smart phones, which has added to your boss’ tension.

The presentation finally ends; your co-worker looks drained; your boss is twitching.

Back at the ranch, no sooner is your co-worker seated at his desk than the boss arrives. “What the heck was that about? Do you realize that you just embarrassed me? What are you going to do about it?” And with that he storms off, leaving your co-worker, who’s respected for his intelligence, restraining his emotions.

A month later you learn that your co-worker is leaving for a competitor and for a higher salary. A few weeks later two more co-workers quit for other companies. Your boss is getting increasingly cranky and belligerent as he loses staff and fails to meet objectives. He’s laying blame around generously.

You decide that it’s time to exit.

While this is a fictitious story, unfortunately similar situations occur every day in public and private organizations. But it doesn’t have to be like this. There is hope. And it starts with leadership, founded on three key elements:

1) Integrity

2) Modeling

3) Consistency

What is Integrity?

Definitions vary. However, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary sums it up nicely:

1) The quality of having strong moral principles. 2) The state of being whole.

The “state of being whole” has particular resonance since that is what we’re talking about with leadership. We want our leaders to be real people who understand their strengths, gifts, weaknesses, and warts. That strong self-awareness propels them to: a) work continuously at improving their areas of weakness, and b) surrounding themselves with competent people to whom they readily delegate.

This is integrity with a human face. It’s about being a whole leader.

Modelling means demonstrating your integrity through your daily actions. It’s about aligning what you say with what you do. It’s easy enough for someone in a leadership position to make promises; it’s quite another to actually accomplish it. Organizations are dynamic, full of bureaucratic politics and one-upmanship, where people strive to build their careers so that they can advance. We’ve all heard of the boss who serves upwards to senior management, stepping on employees while climbing the corporate ladder.

To model leadership behaviours effectively is easier said than done. It can be difficult for some people at first. However, it becomes a natural, daily habit when people commit to making it an integral part of their leadership journey.

This is where integrity starts to meet the road, where traction is being applied. This is where consistency enters the picture.

One of the most important things ever said to me in my leadership journey occurred some 30 years ago when I was a new manager. I was talking one day to my assistant, Julie, when she calmly said: “Jim, I always know where your head is at.”

It may sound like an odd comment, but it had an important meaning for me. However, it took years for me to fully understand it. It’s about integrity and modelling the desired behaviours, two elements I worked hard at when working in organizations, whether I was leading intact teams or project teams.

It’s about consistency – relentlessly practicing those desired leadership behaviours each and every day.

We all make mistakes, and when this happens it’s crucial to acknowledge them and to correct the situation. It’s integrity with a human face. People–your followers–will respect you all the more when you admit when you’re wrong or when you apologize to a colleague for something you said.

In your own leadership journey, be sure to take time to reflect upon your personal integrity.

Are you modelling the desired behaviours you want your followers and colleagues to see and emulate?

Are you practicing consistency on a daily basis? JT

What you bring forth out of yourself from the inside will save you. What you do not bring forth out of yourself from the inside will destroy you. – Gospel of Thomas

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

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