I often wonder how many senior managers really understand how their behavior-both inside and outside the workplace-affects employees who depend on them for guidance and mentoring. Now, I am sure everyone in a position of authority is cognizant of this and believes they are following this code of conduct. The trouble is, many people don't know what is and isn't appropriate. That's why you see such boorish behavior from managers, both in the office and at social events. I've heard stories about bosses that would curl the hair of even the most jaded observer.
Part of the reason for this is a sense of entitlement that recently has crept into the executive suite. Many top managers have lost a sense of perspective about their role in the overall success of a company. Anyone in a management position should understand that it is a privilege, not a right, to lead others. Having this kind of insight should give a manager a certain amount of humility.
Instead, many managers need a reality check. Although they affect a company's performance, their contributions are just part of a team effort that is dependent on the skill and contributions of others. Many managers have been lucky to be promoted into managerial jobs because of their performance, timing and/or contacts with the right people.
But how often do we see bosses who think only of themselves and continually forget to do what I call "platform promoting?" You have to give the limelight to subordinates as often as possible, making them the stars of a meeting by asking them to take over for you from time to time. Unfortunately, because of ego or stupidity, the boss often dominates a meeting without giving colleagues the recognition they deserve. Worse, many managers take credit for others' ideas or work. It should be written in the management manual that it is essential to give employees recognition at public gatherings. It is a marvelous way to reward colleagues. Sometimes psychic income can be more important than the green kind, and bosses who recognize this and practice sharing the spotlight are rewarded by respect and loyalty.
Any quality executive must realize that the true worth of any enterprise is the people who work there. They make it happen, but they want and need a leader who will inspire and motivate them to reach for excellence. Consequently, the workplace should be a place of positive reinforcement and even joy.
We know this is far from the norm. Instead, we see bosses who not only fail to set an example, they do things nobody should do. For example, bosses who attempt to be "just one of the guys (or gals)" do a disservice to themselves and the organization they work for. People expect a boss to be fair, impartial and a grown-up. When leaders fraternize with employees they impede discipline. Any boss who wants to do the right thing should set high standards and above all be fair and impartial.
Not many years ago, a top publishing executive was found to have lied about his accomplishments. For instance, he claimed to have graduated from college with honors. He even went as far as to claim he was a war hero and had been decorated with all sorts of medals. Not only did he state these endeavors on his resume, he was not shy about talking about these supposed accomplishments to friends, colleagues and even customers. One day a reporter thought some of the things this gentleman was saying didn't sound right and took a closer look at the fellow's background. It was found that much of what the executive had claimed simply wasn't true, and after the revelations of what had occurred, the top management of his company didn't do anything to censure the so-called hero. According to the reports I read, the chairman of the company, with the backing of the board, gave the man a vote of confidence because he was doing such an outstanding job.
Just a few days ago, I read an account of a chief executive officer who claimed to have an MBA from Harvard Business School. When this was checked out it simply wasn't true and the executive apologized for his transgression by saying he was so busy with business matters, he was unable to read everything that came across his desk that related to him and his background. In other words, it was somebody else's mistake. He, too, seems to be a very capable executive and his bosses are standing behind him.
People lie all the time, and from time to time many of us inflate what we have accomplished in life. But when something comes out about a top executive at a major company, there are other implications. If a CEO isn't honest about his or her resume, that sends a message to colleagues that dishonesty is OK in the right circumstances. The boss sets the standard of conduct, and unless that person has high standards regarding his or her behavior, why should subordinates be held to a higher standard?
There should be some type of workshop or university-run boot camp for executives on how they should comport themselves as leaders. They could learn things such as how to play fair with colleagues and the importance of being deferential to senior employees no matter how far down the food chain those workers are. Those who have been loyal employees for years and probably have done more for the company than the boss deserve respect. Leaders also should learn to be mindful of others' weaknesses and know what buttons to push to turn mediocre employees into star performers.
Leadership isn't easy, but that's supposed to be why we single out the best and the brightest to assume these important roles. Leaders have to be fair, and they have to set an example through behavior that is beyond reproach, setting a standard of impeccable honesty.
Honesty is always the best policy,
P.S. If you want copies of the 11 commandments of customer service from my Oct. 14 letter (p. 27), simply e-mail or call me.