Friday, April 27, 2012

Leadership sets the example

Recently, there has been a discussion on Linkedin entitled “ is it okay for a leader to bend a rule or policy?” Although the answers have come back mixed, a number have been quite supportive of the idea that it is okay for leadership to disregard rules and policies to some extent.

On the plausible and positive side there are some reasons that can make sense. For example, to lean toward the accommodation of a customer even though policy may indicate a different path. And perhaps applying common sense in a poor-policy situation sounds like an acceptable variance. But these are traps, and  there are better ways.

First, in arguments against deviation from policies by leadership, are legal issues; bending the rules is a legally dangerous choice. It opens the opportunity for successful lawsuits and grievances, as well as criticism and the loss of jobs – as in the recent Secret Service escapade.

Second, if leadership sets the example of disregard for policy, it opens the gate for everyone else in the organization. For the boss to proclaim or demonstrate that he or she can do whatever because he or she is the boss is not only poor leadership, it creates tremendous resentment within the group.

So, how does one get around  policy.

First, policy that is inappropriate, outdated, unnecessary, or just plain stupid, should be dumped. If, on the other hand, it is one in which some discretion in favor of the customer, for example, really needs to be made, change the wording. Instead of an ironclad decree, try substituting the word “recommended.” “At the discretion of” can also be a way of accepting the intelligence of the individual involved while at the same time providing a checkpoint that must be considered.

A good test is to put yourself in the subordinates position: how do you like it when your superiors disregard rules and policy, but you get called on the carpet for little infractions? One of leadership’s goals ought to be to build a team. That doesn’t happen when one individual can do whatever while the rest have to  follow the rules. In a way, to you, this boss person feels like a cheat.

The best leaders play the game fair. If it doesn’t work, fix it. Otherwise, observe it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Building others–and you

It really doesn’t matter how old you are, how famous, or what your position, personal attention makes a difference.

If you want to get close to children, get on the floor with them. You will be amazed at how much more involved with you they become. If you are a teacher, paying attention to individual students makes a big difference in their success. As the top dog in your department, your store, or your organization, you can make significant inroads and great impact when you deal human to human.

A couple of examples on the positive side. I contacted the manager of the local WinCo food store. This is a large store with many employees. I had a question. I called the manager. Instead of someone down the line, he answered the phone. He dealt with my question openly and honestly even though part of the answer was not to my liking. He was fair, straight, and personal. When I went into the store to talk with him, he was very willing and friendly. Will I shop at that store again? Absolutely.

A superintendent of the Boise public schools was riding in an elevator. He was recognized by a district teacher. She introduced herself and told him about a program she was running in her classroom. He said he would like to see it and that he would drop by sometime. Not too long after that meeting, she was surprised to find him in her classroom, remembering her name, and sincerely interested in what she was doing. As she related the story to me, she glowed. He made a positive lasting impression: he really was interested in her, the classroom and what was going on with kids.

A couple of negative examples. I knew a local politician who routinely called and asked for my input.  He was elected governor. From then on, he did not even know me. Another politician – a representative to the congress – continually asked for input. However, when my input did not agree with his philosophy, I received no communication back. To these individuals, I became invisible, unimportant, and of little consequence. Would I vote for them? Absolutely not.

One of the best things you can do for your business or associations, even family, is to pay sincere attention to individuals. Not only will it be good for your business, situation, and them, it will benefit you. You will become a better listener and a better learner.

As always, when you are building others, you are building you.

[You can still get your free download of the new book: "The Wrong Bottom Line. . . Still: Critical Components."  Offer ends Monday, April 16. Email to]