As a leader, you are responsible to ALL employees— at least your team — to uphold the company values through your actions. For example, if someone behaved themselves into a hard lesson, you must be their mirror.All eyes are on you.
With over 25 years of experience as an executive coach, team facilitator, and strategic consultant I am writing the book,“Growing Leaders inside Growing Companies.”
In an advisory role, I hold a seemingly contradictory context in my mind, which is that leaders need to lead with integrity, with love AND listen for people’s greatness. You might be asking the great question, “How can I hold someone accountable (leading with integrity might require a hammer) when I am listening for their greatest and loving them?” This is a paradox, in that both aspects are true though seemingly opposite, and the combination works best together.
Summary of Key Concepts:
- What – How to communicate effectively to an employee that their behavior is outside of company values and unacceptable
- Why – You are the role model for what it means to act consistent with the company’s value
- When – Continuously
- How – Be clear for yourself about the context in which you are providing the required appropriate feedback, hard as that may be.
Many paradoxes are at play in life and in business. You know some; “tough love” when parenting is a paradox, as is “sometimes less is more” regarding communication being effective.
Leaders who learn to effectively hold the tension of paradoxes create great organizations. This learned behavior allows for more effective problem solving and is important because we are examining cultural values. Like water in nature, culture in organizations rolls downhill from the leader to the rest of the organization.
Let’s pull this paradox apart and address integrity. Integrity as a value is defined first and foremost as workability for everyone. Any rule of integrity should apply to everyone and the reason for its existence should be transparent. Examples could include defined ways to treat suppliers, customers, each other as employees. Is win/lose negotiating acceptable? Is swearing acceptable? Is gossiping about leadership tolerated?
When a situation arises where an employee’s behavior has not aligned with our value of integrity in some way, if I am the leader, I must look first at my own behavior. Have I not adequately spelled out how integrity should be exhibited in his/her role? Have I have communicated clearly with appropriate clarification and firm feedback within a reasonable amount of time? Have I spelled out the natural consequences of not following our company’s integrity map? Have I even thought about negotiated consequences, much less communicated them? Am I harder on some people than others?
Assume that I am playing this game of chess well. Once self-reflection brings me to taking action, I must deliver the harsh news that you, employee, are out of alignment with our values. Here are examples of how this conversation would go if I, the CEO or the Supervisor, am communicating difficult news fully and with respect.
The late Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said, “You can’t talk yourself out of something you behaved your way into.”
In my mind, I say to myself or I might say out loud to that individual, “Telling the truth is loving. This may be a hard lesson for you right now. It would have been an easier lesson had it been learned earlier in life from your parents or a teacher telling you the truth about consequences. Maybe they did and you didn’t listen. Maybe they didn’t. Either way, I can’t save you from your own journey because my job as leader is to uphold our company values.
“I am calling out the gap between what is required for employment here, and your demonstrated behavior. Our expectations are explicit, and you made your choice to behave outside of those requirements, so you are now experiencing the consequences of your choices. You are on an explicit Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).
“Your behavior has become our company issue and I would be out of integrity to allow your [disrespectful] behavior to continue. I realize that unless you love yourself, and you listen for your own greatness, I am helpless to help you inside this organization. Without your alignment, the termination hammer will come down by your actions, not mine.
“In this moment of truth, when I’m holding you accountable for operating outside of the acceptable behavioral boundaries of our organization, if you don’t acknowledge, ‘you are right,’ then you have a blind spot and you will experience the consequence.
“As a champion for your future success, I suggest that you own your responsibility in this situation, and find the appropriate counseling to learn how to be responsible and to own your actions.”
Even though these are difficult conversations and if you are conflict-averse, even harder, nonetheless, as the leader you know that you are acting out of love and listening for that employee’s greatness, and acknowledging that your attempts to provide behavioral corrections might be falling on deaf ears. And you want to keep this player on your team since you have invested time, money, and relationship into him or her. Only time will tell.
Bottom line, you are out of integrity as the leader unless you effectively shift responsibility to the employee rather than carrying the burden for the company by ignoring the inappropriate corrective behavior.
For me as a leader, in every professional interaction including the hard ones, this paradoxical context is alive, that leaders lead with integrity, with love and listen for people’s greatness. It makes straight talk much easier, knowing I am putting the responsibility squarely where it belongs, and I can live with myself knowing I hold the values of the organization in my hands.
If the [Performance Improvement Program] doesn’t work then you the leader will know that firing this person is an act of love and listening for their greatness because this individual failed themselves, much to your disappointment. At termination legally you’re not permitted any further discussions. Someone is packing up their personal belongings and walking that person out the door.
In either outcome, transformed or terminated employee, you can sleep at night without guilt when you have done all that was humanly possible to be the mirror for your company’s values AND been a champion for an employee.