Lessons in Effective Leadership - It's Feeding Time at the Zoo

Guest Contributorby Dominique Jones | Posted | Leadership

Lessons in Effective Leadership - It\'s Feeding Time at the Zoo

Being a leader is like being in a zoo exhibit. You’re in a contained environment with a captive audience — and they’re waiting to see who you play well with and who you don’t, who you bash over the head and who or what you eat for lunch!  

Just because you’re a leader.

It doesn’t matter if they report to you or not. It doesn’t matter if they like you or not. It doesn’t matter that they really don’t know anything about you. They watch you and they take their cues from you.

Monkey see, monkey do.

As a leader, one of the biggest things you can forget about is not appreciating the fact that people around you watch what you do and say. All. The. Time. This occurs in small obscure ways and in very obvious ones:

  • One CEO told me how amazed he was that people noticed he was driving a different car.
  • Another told me he was surprised people noticed his office door was open more often.
  • An employee once told me that they’d watched how a leader greeted people every day and adopted that for themselves.

So, yes employees are watching. But they’re not just watching what you do, they’re watching how you do it, how you interact one-to-one and in meetings, how you talk to (or at) people, and how you think. Yes, they even check out your clothes.

They look to see that you are walking the talk. Are you doing those very things that you say people should be doing — or not?

Effective leaders are the stewards of organizational culture

Many people tie leadership-watching to culture and values, and they should. The leaders of an organization are very much the stewards of organizational culture and the values, and it’s the job of a leader to actively show people each and every day what those values mean. To show alignment to them and to hold people accountable for them.

If one of your company values is Respect, then as a leader you should be making sure that you’re treating others in a respectful manner, that you’re listening to them and not dismissing them or their ideas.

If you don’t, then you are totally undermining that corporate value and condoning bad behavior. As the leader, it’s up to you to set the example.

Don’t underestimate the span of influence here either. Your direct reports aren’t the only ones impacted by the example you set. They talk to others and they compare notes. You’re also impacting your peers, even if you don’t know it.

This is where mutual accountability comes into play so obviously: leaders should be singing to the same tune. If one of those notes is off, or one of those leaders can’t sing… it ruins the song.

Cheesy analogy I know, but it really does work that way. There’s nothing worse than poor behavior in a peer being cited as a reason for not doing something or not buying into something. I can’t tell you how many times in my career I’ve heard variations of, “they’re not doing it so why should I?”

As leaders, we can’t escape from the zoo exhibit, so we need to adapt and meet the expectations of that environment. It doesn’t mean we have to turn ourselves into parrots, endlessly reciting our corporate values without purpose. But it does mean we have to raise our awareness and raise our game.

Here are a few tips on how:

  • Walk the talk: and if you can’t commit/support something, don’t talk about it in the first place
  • Hold yourself and each other accountable to corporate values, performance expectations and to being effective leaders
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – look for ongoing opportunities to reinforce values, goals, policies and more
  • Become a talent exporter – develop employees and make them more valuable to your organization (you’ll develop a strong reputation as a good manager as a result)
  • Be an effective listener – to your employees concerns, career aspirations and questions
  • Be open to dissenting or opposing views – and encourage others to do the same

The truth is, all leaders are assessed by employees across the organization on how well they do the above. There’s never a moment you aren’t being “watched”, and since everyone deserves to work for a great leader, you should be doing all you can to be one.

Your Turn: What tips do you have on what it takes to be an effective leader?

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