Ethical Leadership

27 09 2011

I have had the pleasure of working for some really inspirational leaders, leaders from whom I learned a lot. These are some of the lessons I have learned from some of the best leaders I have worked for and observed.

1. Stand by your decisions. If you are making hard decisions that affect people’s lives, you put your face out there. There’s no hiding. If you make the decision, then you stand beside it, even when the going gets tough. (This doesn’t mean you can’t rethink.)

2. Be accountable. No excuses, if you make the decision then you own up to it.

3. Be fair. Find out the information from both (or more) sides of the story and hear both sides out fairly before making a decision. Particularly important in staff disputes and performance management situations.

4. Be available. People want to understand. They want to connect.

5. To err is human. We all make mistakes – you, me, everyone. It’s part of the human experience. Own up to your own mistakes and be clear that if you are changing your decision, you know you are changing your decision – you are not pretending that this was the decision all the way along (and why didn;t everyone esle understand that?). Likewise, recognise that the most perfect, hardworking and motivated employee will make mistakes from time to time.

6. Don’t make people wrong. So you are looking to lead your organisation in a new direction. Don’t start with a scorched earth policy – belittling and destroying everything that has gone before. What happened then happened for a reason and might have been the right thing at the time. Now times are different. You don’t need to make the past wrong in order to have a burning platform for change now and in the future. You also lose goodwill from staff if you denigate what they have done in the past.

7. Criticising the previous incumbent in your position is a cheap shot. And most of us recognise it for what it is. It doesn’t make your performance good, even in comparison. If you are good at your job, demonstrate it by being good, not by making everyone else bad.

8. Part of being a leader – a really big part of it – is dealing with your own emotional luggage. This is the EQ that makes someone a good leader because they aren’t wrapped up in their own emotions, triggers, reactions etc. You need to be able to be objective, you need to be focussed on the task at hand and how it is going. You need to not inflict your psychological hang-ups on others.

9. Being objective doesn’t mean you have no compassion. A Level 6 leader is a true human being who can bring their human compassion and understanding to the job – and still get the job done. It is possible to performance manage or discipline someone with compassion. It’s hard, and the person may not appreciate it at the time, but it’s ethical.

10. Bring people on the journey with you. Particularly if you are new to the organisation, you may have a different idea or understanding of what needs to be done, the direction you need to head in. But respect the people around you enough to explain it to them and bring them on the journey. They aren’t in the same “idea” space as you because their journey has been different. This means you need to lead.

11. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you are truly inspired by the tasks ahead of you, it is easier to inspire others. And inspiration works – it can set a workforce alight with ideas, energy and motivation. Be passionate.

12. You don’t have to pretend everything is great all the time – but be careful what you say. Casual throw-away comments by the leader can be taken very seriously by staff.

13. Set the example. People watch the leader to see what they are doing, what is the expected standard. Work hard and be seen to work hard. Be respectful of others. Model good morale and good relationships. Be ethical. All of these things set the tone for people around you and help establish a positive culture.

14. Don’t be fake. You’ll get caught out and you’ll lose all credibility. And being fake about caring about others, being ethical or being an expert in a field is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

15. Assume the best motivations in people. Assume that most people want to come to work to do a good job. Usually you will be right. This doesn’t mean being naive or not recognising when something is wrong, but it gives people the opportunity to prove you right.

16. Be professional in all things.

That’s what comes to my mind as I think about some of the inspirational people I have known. The behaviours I have described, while modelled for me by leaders, are not only for leaders but also for people who want to be leaders, and those who want to work in a positive ethical workplace.

What else have I missed?



23 07 2011

Bad day at the office?

In an ideal world, we would all be happy and unstressed all the time. We would deal with other with respect and kindness, and would be treated the same in return. If this is the world you live in, please email me and tell me where this place exists.

In reality however, we all have bad days – some more than others. Some in fact seem to be permanently in a bad mood. And that might be a nice way of explaining away their behaviour. No names will be mentioned to protect the guilty.

The evidence linking positive morale with motivation and performance in the workplace (and in life) is inaarguable. But this also works the other way – a negative work environment has detrimental effects on performance. And it is not just that people feel demotivated and less enthusiastic – it actually affects their ability to do the tasks required of them.

In the July 2010 British Medical Journal, Professor Rhona Flin of the University of Aberdeen cited a series of studies demonstrating that being the recipient of rudeness – or even just witnessing rudeness at work – can make you more likely to make a mistake. Students who were insulted prior to performing a series of memory tasks performed worse than the control sample.

Perhaps this is obvious. Workplace bullies the world over know if you pick on someone you can push them to make errors. Usually as managers, we are told we need to deal with bullying for OHS reasons. But this series of studies link the workplace culture and the way workers treat each other to performance. And you don’t have to be the one bullied to make the mistake – you only need to be a witness.

Prof Flin referred to the risks inherent in medical mistakes and used the example of an operating theatre. But the evidence is not limited to the medical field. A US study in a department of transportation found that workplace incivility affected not only job satisfaction, but also the effectiveness of quality programs aimed at teamwork, customer focus and continuous improvement. Decision making and team work was found to be negatively affected by rudeness and incivility in a study of high school students. A quick search of reveals over 30,000 hits.

Generally, we all want to feel what we are doing is important and respected. We want to feel we are doing a good job. We want to work in a positive and supportive environment – and to be positive and supportive ourselves.

If only “the others” wouldn’t get in our way.

Roaring….with laughter

15 07 2011

I am told I have a loud laugh. When I go on holidays, that is what the office notices – it’s suddenly quiet. (I like to flatter myself that they miss other things as well, but somehow this is what is commented on.)

I laugh at lots of things. Often, I laugh at myself. I laugh at my reactions to various things that happen around the office – “wins”, setbacks, frustrations, mistakes and miscommunications. I laugh if something is amusing. I laugh if something takes me by surprise. I laugh in staff meetings when we report back on some of the funny things that happen in our workdays, some of the strange problems I get to deal with (currently I have a sunken boat I need to get raised – so far out of my prior field experience, it seems bizarre to contemplate). I laugh at the differences in perceptions between myself and others – we all come from our own point of view and the difference between those perspectives is often enormous.

All in all, humour works very well for me. I hope the office understands that they can talk to me about pretty much anything. If I explode it will be with laughter, and then we can sit down and work our way through the problem. Laughter is the best medicine, as they say.

I now have a PA who (as well as having an excellent can-do attitude and being very talented) has a very loud laugh and laughs often. We have become a very noisy end of the office. I don’t think that is a bad thing. The sound of laughter, even if you aren’t in on the joke, sets a pleasant tone, cutting through tensions and underlining that you can enjoy your time at work, even when you are under pressure. People want to be here and they want to work here. Why would you want to work somewhere where everyone is miserable?

We use humour in our staff newsletters. As well as valuing incidental humour such as in staff profiles (which they write themselves), we also have jokes and brain-teasers interspersed with the more serious aspects of the newsletter. Hopefully that not only sets the tone for the entire newsletter, but keeps people reading.

I should be clear that none of the laughter is mean. We aren’t laughing at others, and we have an appropriate seriousness with the sad and bad things we sometimes have to deal with in the human services field. We occasionally laugh at our reaction to others and to events, but not at people, clients or staff. The laughter is underpinned by a compassionate view of the world.

And so a study from the University of Kent that found that positive reframing using humour also had beneficial effects on satisfaction comes as no surprise. Positive morale is good for developing a self-motivated cohesive team. But it is also a quality issue. Positive morale is linked to good judgement – decision making.

So maybe one of the most important things I can do at work is develop a positive team morale. As well as making it a more pleasant place for staff, it is so much more enjoyable for me to go to work there as well.