Have you ever been told by a leader that you were expected to take some new initiative or idea seriously, only to find out that the leader didn’t take it seriously himself? They emphasized how important everyone’s participation was, and then they didn’t participate themselves. After all, they’re much too busy.
How did it make you feel about that leader? How did it make you feel about the initiative that they said was so important? Did you still take it as seriously?
“Do as I say, not as I do,” can be pretty de-moralizing to an organization, and undermining to a leader’s credibility. Great organizations are never led from the middle. They must be led from the top.
That doesn’t mean that a leader is expected to do everything that she expects her people to do. That would be totally impractical. And delegating meaningful work to others is one great way to develop them as leaders.
While delegation is an important skill for preventing burnout and for developing more leaders, it’s important to remember that some things cannot be delegated. Leading significant, organization-wide change cannot be delegated. Passion for a cause cannot be delegated. If there’s an attitude or a paradigm that you want to see become contagious in your organization, you must first spread the germs yourself. Too many great initiatives and changes have fizzled, because people perceived that the senior leader didn’t take it seriously.
If you’re asking others to change, you must demonstrate that you are changing (not that you have arrived, because no one believes that). They need to know that they’re invited to come where you’re going, not that you’re sending them somewhere you’re unwilling to go yourself.
Let’s use a practical example. You believe that ethics training is important for your staff. In your role, you deal with tough ethics issues regularly, most of your staff do not, and you want them to be ready to handle tough ethical dilemmas. It feels like a waste of your time to personally attend the training, because you don’t really need it.
Consider attending the training anyway, in order to model what you’re expecting of your staff- that you want them to take the training seriously. And if you can take time to participate, they certainly can. That’s the strong message you’ll send.
The alternative is to try and hang on to your credibility by explaining that you’re already good at dealing with ethical questions, and that’s why you don’t need the training. Which of these two approaches do you think will get you the result you’re looking for from your staff?
Recently, a leader who I was leading and coaching said that the most inspiring thing about my leadership was getting a front row seat to watch how much I was personally growing as a leader. I couldn’t ask for a higher complement. She saw that, if I could learn and improve as a leader, then she could too.
Remember the rule of thumb for leading people, “They can’t BE what they can’t SEE.” You must show people what you expect, not just tell them.