Changing culture is “hard, difficult and subject to relapse”. As a consequence, culture takes a long time to change. In the meantime that leaves your leadership behaviour as the most direct and controllable method to influence performance and help build a resilient and effective culture. To be effective you need to transform those key behaviours into habits. Here are some useful leadership habits to consider:
Habit # 1 - The standard you walk by is the standard you accept
Everyone 'boss watches'. It is what you do as a leader that is important not simply what you say. Actions speak loader than words - 'people listen with their eyes'. There is no point preaching the mantra that 'no job is so important that it can't be done safely' if you walk past unsafe acts or conditions without intervening. That action (or inaction) sets the standard. You lead by the example you set. Small things matter. Bad drives out good, so you need to nip bad stuff in the bud. In the same way that in neighbourhoods when one broken window is left unrepaired the remaining windows would soon be broken too (the ‘broken windows’ theory), so the concept can be applied to the relationship between dealing effectively with apparently trivial undesired behaviour and achieving high performance. Allowing even a bit of ‘bad’ to persist “suggests that no one is watching, no one cares, and no one will stop others from doing far worse things”
Every leader needs to be ‘present’ and cast their ‘leadership shadow’. "Leadership shadow" is a phrase used to describe a common phenomenon in organizations where those in positions of leadership and power, through their behavior and actions, tend to influence the behavior and actions of those below them, thus “casting a shadow” across the organization. Little things matter. Their shadow reflects what they deem important, how they respond to crises, deal with a threats, treat those around them, and behave in general. Whether they realize it or not, all of this feeds into the cultural fabric of the organization.
Habit # 2 - Be intentional and disciplined
People tend to do what their leaders systematically pay attention to. One way of doing this is through ‘systematic walkarounds’ of the ‘working interface’. Systematic in this context means structured, scheduled and disciplined. Walkarounds means in this context means being present in the workplace, observing the work being done and giving feedback on performance to the people involved. The working interface in this context means “the configuration of equipment, facilities, systems and behaviour that define the interaction of the worker with the technology”. This is where the threats and hazards to employees and the organisation exist and manifest themselves
One example of a systematic approach is used by DuPont which they call 'layered auditing'. DuPont believe that "accidents cast their shadows before them" and they can be predicted proactively by the type of behaviours that can be observed in the workplace. In order to actively monitor the workplace all managers, from the top of the organisation down to the first line managers, are required to undertake a specified minimum number of workplace audits within their area of responsibility. The number of audits can be increased if the incidence of at risk behaviour observed in the work area is on an upward trend.
The key to this approach of auditing is to ensure that when the senior manager undertakes the audit they are accompanied by the immediate manager or supervisor of the work area. This is to ensure that the 'power' of the immediate manager of the work area is reinforced not diluted. One objective of this type of auditing is 'to catch people doing something right', which gives the opportunity to give positive reinforcement and praise for the desired behaviours observed. Of course whilst undertaking this type of auditing you will find employees demonstrating undesired behaviours. This is an opportunity to encourage the immediate manager to provide the employee observed with performance feedback. For the senior manager who is carrying out the audit it provides an opportunity to 'see' and discuss the 'roadblocks', created by the organisation's work systems and work design, that prevent the individual employee from demonstrating the desired performance. This process becomes a partnership between managers and employees – it is done with them not to them
Habit # 3 - Listen more than talk
As the saying goes "we were born with two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we talk". There are practical benefits to following this advice. If we continually simply tell or instruct people what to do then we not only limit their opportunity to learn and develop but we also automatically create resistance - ' if you insist, I will resist'. But there is a paradox here; the core of employee engagement is that people also need to know what is expected of them and how they are performing in relation to that goal. One proven way of creating effective manager subordinate interaction and managing this paradox is through 'performance dialogue'. An effective performance dialogue means getting the right balance between ‘advocacy’ (telling) and ‘enquiry’ (asking). One way of getting this balance is by using the Tell, Ask, Feedback (TAF) process:
TELL - tell people what is expected of them (instructions, standards, goals)
ASK - ask them how performance is progressing (monitoring the work)
FEEDBACK - provide feedback on performance (positive, negative and neutral comments)
To be authentic this three step performance dialogue process needs to be built into the normal day to day 'give and take' interaction that takes place between a manager and their subordinates.
The performance dialogue provides the basic building block for meeting an individual’s basic needs and for improving individual employee engagement i.e. through directly influencing the responses to 6 Gallup questions.
Managers need to be careful both about what they say and how they say it:
- Use ‘open’ not ‘closed’ questions
- Be careful with the use of ‘but’ as a linking word in the middle of a sentence – for example the way that ‘do it safely but do it by Friday’ means something entirely different to ‘do it by Friday but do it safely’.
- Ensure that body language, tone of voice and facial expression are congruent with the verbal message
- Knowledge is linked by ‘hooks’ – use open questioning to identify high risk exposures which are known to the participant may not be readily visible or apparent to the manager
So in summary:
• Managers need to interact authentically with their subordinates
• Such interactions have to be about performance related issues
• An important element of such interactions is about asking/enquiring (including identifying ‘roadblocks’ to performance)
Habit # 4 - Compliment - authentically
When we are given compliments, if is done authentically, it makes us feel good and when we feel good we perform better in whatever it is we are doing. But complimenting is not flattery and does not preclude criticism or honest feedback as long as it is done with respect. There are three fundamental rules to follow if you want your compliments to be useful:
1. Compliments must be genuine, authentic and sincere
2. Compliments must be appropriate to the situation and based on reality
3. Exaggerating is never good
But recognition for most people is not praise but respect, understanding and dialogue.
o To be recognised for ones efforts is to be respected as a human being in the organisation
o To be shown respect by verbal and non-verbal supervisory behaviour
o employees understanding how well they are doing in relation to the resource limitations and system obstacles they must overcome in their jobs
o not about praise or awards; it is about awareness and appreciation of the details of resourcefulness, innovation and persistence it takes to get the job done.
Two way dialogue is:
o a conversation, not simply a discussion, but a genuine dialogue between boss and subordinate that brings out collective wisdom of both participants by learning to think together – creating a flow of meaning. A dialogue “is an inquiry that surfaces ideas, perceptions, and understanding that people do not already have”
o The key 'mechanism' for providing recognition is "a meaningful performance dialogue with their supervisor”.
Habit # 5 - Learning to 'see'
Effective leaders identify ‘barriers’ to performance and where if appropriate intervene to help remove them. Most people come to work to do a good job. The problem is that there are ‘barriers’ to good performance. These barriers can take many forms including:
- • Organisational barriers
e.g. lack of resources, lack of time to carry out required checks
- • Administrative barriers
e.g. procedures that are too limited to deal with current demands
- • Physical barriers
e.g. poor workplace layout causing product wastage
These barriers create waste. Leaders at all levels need to ‘see’ the obstacles that create ‘waste’ in the workplace. Waste is any cost that does not add value. Learning to see waste and its causes leads quite naturally to designing work in better ways, something else that needs to be 'seen'. When leaders have learned to see such things and have a dialogue about them with the people who do the work with a view to changing them, people follow. And that is a good way to think about leadership - do people follow you? When leaders make learning to ‘see’ into a habit they 'lead learning' and people who follow them start solving problems the leader doesn't even know about.
Here are some practical tips to improve your observational skills:
- Understand the difference between looking and observing. Be ‘consciously competent’ whilst you are observing
- Bring a different perspective – a fresh pair of eyes
- Develop an 'auditors eye' - e.g. Look up to the ceiling and see what is above the process or activity - ' the floor is the mirror of the process', pick up on fleeting actions – ‘catching the evaporative act’, use all your senses – you can sometimes smell the smoke before the fire
- Look for 'handoffs' in the workflow
- Look for anomalies – they are often the precursors to bigger problems
There is a paradox to be managed here. We want people to solve their own problems because in order to maximize ownership and learning, problems are best solved at the level and place where they occur. But some problems will be caused by failures in the organizational and management systems which it is the manager’s responsibility to resolve.
You can see that all these leadership habits are complementary and can be used as a systematic repertoire of integrated behaviours. So effective leaders are ‘present’, lead by example, maximise the use of praise, coach and involve rather than tell and dictate, and are absolutely always aware that even the little things that they do throw a big shadow. Remember: You get the level of performance that you demonstrate that you want to have.