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Business Leadership

Follow the Leader

I’ve been thinking lately about how important it is for leaders to set an example for the people that they lead, whether they are volunteers or employees. In my experience, actions do speak louder than words. I wanted to share some examples.

The committee for the Hartford Bubble Festival meets monthly to vote on community improvement projects, and plan for the annual Bubble Festival that takes place in June. The committee president covers for the treasurer when they are out of town. So, the reporting on the committee financial status varies depending on who is handling the books.

The treasurer will distribute a detailed one page summary of the committee’s financial transaction, add any additional clarification verbally, and then respond to questions. When the president takes the reins, he shares a bank statement and then gives a quick recap for the month’s transactions.

I wondered why the reporting is handled differently by the two people. I think that the assumption is that the treasurer provides a more detail reporting because it’s a part of their job as treasurer, and maybe they have a deeper understanding of what is going on, or access to resources the president doesn’t have. But, if that were the case, couldn’t the president be shown what the process was for the reporting? Or, maybe he had but chose to ignore it?

Then, if you look at this from the perspective of the treasurer, they might ask themselves why they go to all of the trouble of producing a report if everybody on the committee seems satisfied by a quick recap during the winter months.

Every situation is different, so perhaps the treasurer isn’t bothered by the president’s lackadaisical approach. But, at the very least this is a lost opportunity to demonstrate to the other members of the committee that thoroughness and consistency are important for the group. When others give a progress report, they will see the treasurer’s work as the gold standard and not the exception. If the treasurer happens to resign, they would do so with the understanding that the president believes in their work strongly enough to encourage their replacement to follow the same procedures.

Sometimes, leaders give mixed messages, a form of “Do as I say, and not as I do.” It is common for a department manager or CEO of an organization to take some liberties on how they do things, perhaps because they have so much more on their plate, or they are from a different school of thought. A friend of mine worked at an organization where everybody was expected to store their final documents on a shared drive. Almost everybody did, with the exception of the CEO. When the organization implemented a CRM, for the longest while the CEO didn’t log their activities like the rest of the staff was expected to. The shared calendar was also often incomplete because the CEO did not post their meetings and other events there. All of these procedures were discussed, documented, implemented, and reviewed, but the CEO insisted on doing things their own way.

In both of these cases, these leaders sabotaged their own organizations by not following procedures, and missing opportunities to recognize their staff members’ work. Because, behind every report, form, or procedure is an individual or group of individuals who took the time to establish a best practice for the organization, and by not following it a leader risks delegitimizing their requirements.

Furthermore, a leader who doesn’t follow the procedures of their own organization is setting a precedent for others to follow. They might ask, “If the president didn’t write a report when they were covering for the treasurer, then while I’m covering for them why should I?” Or “How can I get in trouble for not posting my meetings on the staff calendar? The CEO never does it.” Imagine what it sounds like to new employees to learn the procedures at a company, but then being told, “Well, our manager doesn’t do this.”

When people in leadership decide whether to follow or ignore a procedure or best practice for their organization, they should consider the impact that their action will have on others. There will be circumstances when a person must do things differently, but this should be the exception. And, to help promote accountability a leader should encourage their staff to follow procedures and also explain why they sometimes do things differently. Maybe ask if their actions had inconvenienced anybody, and then find ways to help them work around those issues.

What might help for leaders of an organization is to remember that even their volunteers or employees in the lower ranks are leaders in their own areas, but instead of directing from above they lead from below by implementing procedures and suggesting best practices. A strong leader might listen to their staff, and set the standard for how closely the team should follow the processes that have been established, as well as a model for accountability.

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