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Many of my clients invest in leadership development because they understand that being a great leader is a skill that needs regular strengthening.

Most leadership development (quite rightly) invests heavily in what leaders say – we work on setting clear visions and goals, introduce coaching models and find the right language to have a difficult conversation. But how much attention do we pay to the messages the leader sends when they are not speaking at all?

The great leaders I have worked with consider the impact they have on others around them. They get that as a leader, someone is always watching.

I care about the messages that leaders send because these are what shapes organisational culture.

Consider the following (unfortunately common!) examples I hear often:

1. The moody/erratic leader.

You know the scene….the boss arrives to work in a proverbial storm cloud; clearly unhappy, heads to their office without any pleasantries and their door is shut behind them.

At best, individuals will chalk this up to a bad day (we all have them!) At worst team members with even the slightest level of insecurity will start to hypothesise ‘is this about me?’ Inevitably, the moody/erratic leader unsettles people – you never know what you’re going to get.

The impact on culture? A moody leader is the antithesis to any organisation trying to foster a culture where employees feel safe and secure. It also implies that it’s acceptable for leaders to throw a fit when things get challenging.

2. The leader who doesn’t follow up.

You and your boss have discussed a piece of work and agreed on next steps. In your next weekly meeting you discuss other stuff that has come up, but your agreed actions are not followed up on. This is a cycle that repeats itself…..deadlines slip and go unnoticed. You start to wonder whether the work is even important at all?

Behaviour like this can allow mediocrity to fester.

The impact on culture? A leader who doesn’t follow up is the worst possible match for an organisation trying to breed a culture of accountability.

3. The leader who cancels regularly.

Your regularly scheduled weekly meetings seem to be an inconvenience for your leader – they miraculously get moved, postponed, shortened or cancelled altogether. When you realise this is now the norm, you conclude they don’t seem to have enough time for you.

The impact on culture? A leader who regularly deprioritises time with their team is the kryptonite to an organisation trying to breed a ‘people first’ culture. How can people really matter if they can be so easily dismissed?

Though these examples are ubiquitous, I wonder if the leaders in each case ever reflect on whether their own behaviour is having an impact. Does the moody leader ever wonder why team members don’t bring them new ideas or engage in debate? Does the leader who doesn’t follow up wonder why nothing ever gets done and/or why deadlines are regularly missed? Does the leader who cancels regularly wonder why individuals have stopped asking for their help?

A wise woman once prompted me to think about the message I was sending to a member of my own team. I was frustrated that my words weren’t getting through but hadn’t stopped to consider that my actions were speaking louder than the carefully crafted script I was reading from, and my message got lost.

What message are you sending?