There are many aspects of leadership that are challenging to the leader, but none more so than the fact that everything a leader does is watched by everyone within the organisation. Not only what they do, but how they do it. Their behaviours are constantly tested against the behaviours that they espouse and that the organisation expects.
These days, with organisations declaring not only their values but the behaviours that are to be the visible display of these values, this challenge is greater than ever before. In the past, the way you lived the values was pretty much left up to you, but that left many organisations unsure how to measure whether people were or were not living their values, so behaviours are now frequently being declared too or are replacing values. The challenge for a leader of being congruent and still being you has therefore increased.
As a leader, you are automatically expected to not only buy into the organisational values and behaviours but to be an advocate and role model for them. Being an advocate is relatively easy, but role modelling is a greater challenge. Many of us can agree with the organisation’s statement on an intellectual level and say to ourselves ‘yes I can sign up to that’. But knowing you are truly acting in line with it is harder because you spend all day being ‘you’ and that version of you has been developed over many years so it’s hard to not just be ‘you’. None of us have a built-in filter that alerts us to any occasion where we are about to act in a way that is misaligned and stops us. To know would almost require you to walk around with a camera focused on you all the time so you can playback and review every moment of your day.
As an example, I recently facilitated a session where it was quickly obvious that the senior manager was the root of a number of issues within the leadership group’s ability to act. At one point, she stated publicly that she couldn’t imagine coming in to work each day feeling she wasn’t empowered. However, for the previous two hours she had stopped conversations to tell people they were wrong or what the right answer was and gave ‘clear instructions that were not to be argued with’. So was she congruent? Well, in the minds of the people in the room she wasn’t yet in her head she obviously thought she was. Perhaps she thought that, as a leader she was ‘providing direction’ and was living that leadership value. That’s also where values and behaviours trip us up because one persons ‘direct’ is another persons ‘instruct’ or one persons ‘empower’ is another persons ‘abandon’. A minefield that was supposed to get easier with clearly stated behaviours can just mean there are more mines!
So how can you be sure that how you walk and talk is aligned to the organisational values yet still congruent?
Well, firstly an understanding that intellectual acceptance of the organisation’s statements is not enough. None of us walk out of a room and suddenly act in line with new values or behaviours statements. You need to go through a translation exercise because firstly, the way we understand words in our heads varies a little from person to person (ever argued with someone about what a word means?). Secondly, we need to decide what each statement means to us and how we then act that value or behaviour out. If we leave it to our unconscious mind, our decisions will be the ones that our unconscious mind always makes, so there’s no change. Change requires the new action to be repeated routinely until our unconscious mind takes on the new behaviours and they become natural. So driving towards new behaviours is a conscious act way before you can assume it is unconscious.
The third step is to manage the fact that we can easily delude ourselves. It is very easy to convince yourself that the way you behave currently is fine and is perfectly in line with the new behaviours. This is a built-in human capability that keeps us moving forward in the world. Without it we would question everything we do, every minute, and end up being a bag of neuroses.
The best tools to ensure you don’t convince yourself that everything is fine in the ‘world of you’ are the two old-fashioned habits of feedback and reflection. Being truly open to people saying to you ‘do you know when you said that, it didn’t come across to the rest of us as being aligned to the values?’ can become meaningful if followed by a good dose of introspection and self- questioning.
This all takes time in a world where time is something you don’t have in abundance, but mostly it takes attitude. An attitude that you are open to learning, open to feedback, open to being wrong, open to improvement, open to growing as a leader.
And like most of the values and behaviours statements that are going around these days, those attitudes will in themselves help you on the path to being the kind of leader that is needed in the world of today.