What You Do Affects What They Do

I just read an article on Trickle-Down Leadership (Jack Zenger & Joseph Folkman). It made me reflect on my time as a leader in several organizations. The thesis is great leaders work for great leaders, or good behaviors are mimicked.  Conversely, if you work for a neglectful, blaming leader, you may become one as well, disengaging your team. This paragraph clearly summarized the point:pronghorn-934553_640

“To help this sink in, take a minute to think about the occasional things you do poorly and the bad habits you can’t seem to change. No doubt you’re not proud of them. You might be a bit embarrassed. Considering this research might increase your motivation to change, since the things you do poorly have a reasonable probability of being mimicked by others. Your peers, your direct reports, your partner or spouse, and your children also have a high probability of practicing the example you set.” (Zenger and Folkman)

My own experiences mirror that summary. In my first example, when I graduated from university, I worked for a wonderful leader who inspired me to work collaboratively. I came to that job with little “professional” experience, and needed a bit more polish. I wasn’t highly skilled at dealing with conflict. In one instance, I was having an email spat with a co-worker. My boss encouraged me to take the high road, tackle the conflict with a face-to-face conversation, and really listen to the other person. This is something I had witnessed her do a number of times. She was great at it. I was skeptical I could do it, and yet I trusted that my director would give me good advice. It worked. The co-worker and I managed to hear each other, and make teaks in our agendas to work together. We eventually became quite friendly. I was mimicking my boss’s behavior. Two lessons: Always talk in person when there is conflicting ideas, and get to know people so you can better understand them.

“We must rise above our personal and professional angst for the greater good of the team.”

My second experience I reflected on was years later, and a poignant example of poor trickle-down leadership. In this instance, I had a team that worked for me. My leader was divisive, distrustful, narcissistic and manipulative. In one cruel example a colleague on the leadership team was flailing, my boss summoned me into his office and told me that I alone was responsible for getting this leader back on track or he would fire her. He completely relinquished his responsibility to work with my colleague, and made it my responsibility. His message was clear, “Get it done, or else.”

As time went on, I found myself in a constant state of stress, conflict-avoidance, and fear. A natural response to fear is flight and I flew! I was focused on myself, rather than what was happening around me, or those that reported to me. My team ultimately suffered because of this. They were afraid, I was afraid and it was a huge and uncomfortable situation for us.  Fear was definitely trickling down.  Realizing that I could not change in this environment, I moved on. I loved the work, just not my leadership or my leader. Lesson learned: Be more aware of my own behaviors.  This was a dark moment in my work history, and one of which I am not proud. I have used it to grow and learn.

We take for granted the impact that we have on people around us. Especially those of us in leadership positions, we must rise above our personal and professional angst for the greater good of the team. If you want calm, collaborative and engaged teams, you must demonstrate calm, gently directive, and collaborative behaviors.

In order to become more aware of our behaviors that are negatively influencing others, we must reflect, seek others’ feedback and commit to change. Your investment in personal and professional development will have a profound outcome for those around you, and you will be happier. What’s not great about that?

I would love to hear what you are doing to grow this year.

If you suspect that you are not being your best, most authentic and thoughtful leader, let’s talk.

“When they go low, we go high.” –Michelle Obama

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