A 12-Step Recovery Program to Break from the Pack—Step 8: Lead from a Glass House
This article is excerpted from Break From the Pack: How to Compete in a Copycat Economy and is the eighth in a twelve-part series.
Everyone in an organization is a boss-watcher. "Whether in the Army or in civilian life," says Colin Powell, "the other people in the organization take their cue from the leader—not from what the leader says, but what the leader does."
Leaders always function from a glass house, where their actions and attitudes are visible to everyone around them. Good leaders know it and operate accordingly. They recognize that although people listen to the noble words that a leader might pronounce, what really affects them is what the leader pays attention to. They carefully track what questions their leader asks daily, what reports she asks for and actually reads, what meeting agenda priorities he sets, what kind of resources she allocates to which part of the enterprise, who he criticizes and for what, what visibly thrills or angers her, who he lauds and for what, who she promotes, who he assigns to which project, which people she visits and hangs out with, and so on.
People observe these behaviors, and then—regardless of the leader's words—they draw conclusions about what's truly urgent and what they should consider top priorities. This is such a powerful and predictable process that Jackie Osborne, a human resources executive at Hewitt Associates, has concluded, "Leaders have no neutral actions." All their choices have great symbolic impact. Good leaders consciously leverage that awareness daily when they schedule meetings, make budgetary decisions, converse with employees, and the like.
The glass house effect is so pervasive that it makes people draw conclusions about the leaders themselves. When the leader's words and deeds match, the leader's credibility and influence go up. When they don't, they go down. Many leaders think nothing about promising something and not delivering, or declaring a priority and not "living" it. When that occurs, trust plummets. In his book Trust in the Balance, Robert Shaw defines trust as "the belief that those on whom we depend will meet our expectations of them." Trust is the glue that holds together any team that strives to lead the pack, and the leader is the ultimate role model for organizational trust, or distrust.
To engender that kind of trust, you must conscientiously monitor what you say and do. Deliberately behave the way you want your colleagues to behave. Go on record and make it clear that The Way will drive every one of your management decisions—and then follow through on that avowal. Be busy with a clear and bold purpose in mind, and make sure everyone sees and understands what you're doing. Peter Drucker once noted that too many managers "are magnificent at getting the unimportant things done. They have an impressive record of achievement on trivial matters." If you visibly and authentically adhere to a clear path of nontrivial priorities, you will build your own credibility and your organization's integrity. You will reduce people's fear of the future, and you will inspire their hope and confidence as they pursue uncharted paths.