“Heroes are those who can somehow resist the power of the situation and act out of noble motives, or behave in ways that do not demean others when they easily can.”
Philip G Zimbardo
The context-specific nature of behaviour
Today’s acceptable behaviour may become tomorrow’s abhorrence. It is difficult to make moral judgement about behaviour in the past and compare it to what we know and the standards we hold today. The sexist nature of much of the treatment of women in the workplace is a relevant example. In the not so distant past, women were denied some workplace roles because of their gender. Something that would, (hopefully!), now be considered unconscionable.
Similarly, in relation to senior leaders who once used a singular leadership style towards their ‘subordinates,’ regularly berating or belittling them, would be held to account in most (!) large organisations today.
Things move on. Expectations change. And so should the standards of behaviour that shareholders, customers and employees should demand of those that are designated to lead UK businesses and organisations.
Behaviour begets behaviour
The word ‘toxic’ in relation to behaviour has been used a fair bit in recent years. The analogy to an infection that spreads, when applied to organisational behaviour, turns out to be incredibly apt. According to research, highly effective leaders promote better business performance not just of those they lead, but from those in the layer below those they directly lead. Whilst this is great if your organisation is full of brilliant leaders, the bad news is that negative leadership behaviour is more ‘infectious’ than positive behaviour. So if you have leaders demonstrating poor behaviour, not only will that impact those around them but can outweigh the impacts of an equal number of highly effective leaders.
So, not only is there a multiplying effect to bad behaviour but it directly has a number of negative impacts on those that are on the receiving end of poor leadership behaviour, namely:
- Less effort employed to tasks and projects
- Less time spent at work
- Less commitment to the organisations vision
- Reduced work quality
- Increase in time wasted on reacting to poor behaviour Lower customer service scores
(e.g. Wegge et al, 2015)
How to improve bad behaviour
As a senior leader, here are six ways that you can make a positive impact to negative leadership behaviours:
It is possible that your reward system actually – probably inadvertently – increases rewards for behaviours that would be considered negative. An example might be in a sales environment where the ‘what’ is rewarded but the ‘how’ those sales are achieved, is not considered in the ultimate reward structure.
Ensure that as a senior leader you are providing timely, clear feedback about behaviour you witness that is inappropriate. Here is a brilliant tip from Lieutenant General David Morrison about the idea of nipping poor behaviour in the bud, “The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.” It takes a bit of moral courage to do tackle things but much easier to do so early than leave things to fester and impact others.
Feedback is usually only helpful if it is accompanied by some development opportunity. Break the mindset that suggests learning needs to be formalised. Help people learn by doing. Get them a mentor or a coach. Meet with them on a weekly basis and you ‘teach’ them. Whatever it takes to help them improve.
Role model appropriately
As a leader you are always role modelling, so bear that in mind from the moment you enter your place of work. Proactively consider how you want to ‘show up.’ In fact, you are always role modelling to yourself, so actually you need to bear that in mind every minute of every day. Forever.
Hire for behaviours
You can reduce the amount of poor behaviour by recruiting in a more targeted way in the first place. Be clear on what you are looking for in new team members. Consider the values you want people to be able to demonstrate and then recruit against that – at times, even at the expense of technical skills, if you have to, these can always be taught later.
Conduct exit interviews
When people leave and move on to hopefully even better things, ask them about their experience on your team. Discuss behaviours that helped and behaviours that hindered them being able to produce brilliant work every day. Start with providing them the space to review your behaviours first!
“I learned along the way, you know, culture is behaviour. That’s all it is; culture is people’s behaviour” Ginni Rometty
Great leadership inspires and demands wonderful behaviours, that in themselves generate incredible workplace cultures. When you need help developing highly effective leaders you can contact Glenn P Wallis here.