Honesty, Culture, and the Clash with Leadership

September 3, 2016
Comments Off on Honesty, Culture, and the Clash with Leadership

I recently read a post on WP Tavern (one of my fav WP blogs to read) that brought up the question of the “us vs. them” mentality. And then I read another blog post that was a reaction to the original post.  And it got me thinking…but not about WordPress core leadership. To be completely honest with you, I’m not as involved in WordPress contributions as I’d like to be, but that is my fault and mine alone. However, it did make me contemplate leadership in general. It seems like we are seeing a rise in the toxic leader and employees that clash with leadership are finding new companies.

Lately, I’ve been starting a lot of my sentences with the words “to be completely honest with you..” as if I’m trying to get a point across that merits truthfulness. When, realistically, I try to be as honest as I can be when speaking about things like work and the environment we collaborate in. Yes…as honest as I can be…and that thought, that thought right there (you had it too, didn’t you!?), that thought makes me pause. I want to uncover that thought because it’s one that we don’t talk about. And it’s universal across all businesses, all industries.

That thought of being honest…

This is a really hard concept to capture, comprehend, and bring to light…because, let’s face it, we hold back. Quite. A. Lot. And to a certain extent, we have to. We are all professionals in a professional world, yet we don’t think that way about some of the people we interact with. I think we’ve all been in these situations where we’re casually talking with a new colleague when they ask the question “so, what should I know about our CEO?” Maybe they ask “what are your thoughts on the way she handled that meeting?” We all want to be honest with a new coworker about the flaws of our bosses or how we think our manager handled that last working session, but we hold back when they ask.

Then there’s being honest with your CEO or boss. Should you have to worry about whether or not you’re going to get fired for bringing up an issue at work. Or should you have to feel scared of retribution from a manager, director, or the CEO of your company for doing something you feel is right? Probably not, but it happens all the time. It happens because there’s usually a lack of communication in the hierarchy of an organization.  Or the organization itself breeds dishonesty. But what’s the one thing that affects communication more than anything else? Behavior.

“People leave managers, not companies.”

I forget who said it, but people leave their manager, not their company. For the most part, I believe this to be true. You have probably left a company because you lack faith in your leadership or are at odds with them. Leaders come in different shapes and sizes. There’s no leadership school that you can send someone to to receive leadership training. Well, I guess there are leadership seminars and whatnot. But it’s a trait that a). people are born with, or b). (and more likely) people develop over time, or c). (most likely) people are committed to improving through team feedback, lessons learned, and the will to lead in a better capacity.

In my opinion, trust (or lack there of) in your leadership really comes down to behavior. Now everyone says it would be healthier to bring up your grievances, but whether or not team members actually do this is a reflection of how comfortable they feel with leadership and their behavior. How can employees feel comfortable airing their issues if their leadership is known for explosive behavior? On the flipside to that, if your leadership is known for not having explosive behavior, but more passive aggressive behavior, I ask again—how can employees feel comfortable airing their issues? My career has spanned many industries, and I’ve come in contact with many leaders, some good, some bad, and very few who have been phenomenal! It’s the leaders that instill a judgment-free, open-door, challenging environment that enables teams to shine. And the leaders that don’t, usually see a high turnover rate.

Behavior begets behavior…

Behavior plays such a huge role in leadership skills. I’m sure we’ve all had that Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde boss that we’re frightened to go to because we’re not sure what reaction we’ll get from them. That’s setting a tone for the entire company to not raise future issues. We’ve also probably all had the passive aggressive boss that shuts you out after a remark is made or an idea is mentioned that wasn’t well-received, and you end up getting the silent treatment for two weeks. Employees will feel like speaking up isn’t worth the effort or retribution.

Behavior begets behavior, and it starts at the top. What do I mean by that? Well, a company, agency, or startup, is usually a reflection of the leadership. If a CEO is transparent with his employees, they’ll most likely be transparent with the CEO. When a Director of Marketing is an innovative leader, her team will most likely become innovative themselves. If a manager wants their team members to go to networking events, then that manager should be going to them as well.  Employees will usually mirror the behavior they see leadership display. We’ve all heard the term “lead by example.”

A company culture will be defined by the behavior leadership teams exhibit. And without the support of leadership, then a company’s culture has no chance of actually changing for the better. Good staff don’t want to work in a company that breeds a culture of fear or mediocrity.

Ethics also play a big role…

I have a moral code that I live by, as I’m sure you do too. Companies have the same thing, they call them values. But I think some companies have values just for the sake of having values. Without standards that can help measure the commitment one has toward their values, then they’re just a punchline.

I’ve been involved in the retail, sales, construction, and technology industries. They all have a mixed bag of people who want to do the right thing, those that seem like they don’t care, and the others that are balancing between ethics and cutting corners. Individuals have ethics, groups have ethics, and at times they can be at odds. They can also be a glaring example of a leader’s backbone. Leaders need to be held to a higher ethical standard because interpretations are dependent on those they lead. And too many times do we see leaders’ actions as “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy that begins to creep into an entire organization.

Finding that right mix…

What happens when you’re odds with your leadership? Or what happens when you can’t be honest with them? You start to hate your job, and essentially your life. No one wants to compromise their ethics for getting better results (or what may seem like better results) at work. But people do it. No one wants to be dishonest with their coworkers about the behavior of their CEO. But we do it. And we rationalize why. “Oh, I really need this job.” “The benefits are good, and it’s something I can tolerate for now.” Your inner self is screaming at you to leave now!!! And maybe you should.

Why do you think there are so many freelancers out there? How many times have you heard someone say “I’m going to open up my own business because I can do this better?” Many, I’m sure. But if you don’t want to be a freelancer or business owner, then what are your options? Finding that right mix of industry, coworkers, and leadership that’ll challenge you and make you feel at home.

Thriving with collaboration and innovation

Seek out industries you have a passion for. Seek out companies and other individuals that have similar values and standards. Check out Glassdoor Best Places to Work, GreatPlacesToWork.com, or any other rating site. When you find a company that looks good, check them out, check out their products, their reviews, their case studies, testimonials, etc. Talk with employees and former employees. Seek out the companies that are accomplishing things you’d want to accomplish too.

Bring your moral code to the team, bring your values and standards along too. When you start at a new company, bring your innovation, collaborate with team members in an open and honest way. If you can show your energy and enthusiasm, you’ll most likely attract those with the same energy and enthusiasm. Getting into a company where leaders openly challenge you to do your best work the right way is rare. When you find that place, it’s a place to stay.

I just started at a new company and so far, they’re super collaborative, innovative, and transparent. But I also have the added value of working with a leader I trust from years ago, so that’s a plus. Our portfolio is huge, we work with some really cool technology, and we have a global team. I’m looking forward to this next chapter and the team I’m doing it with. But what if you’re in a different position than me?

Co-existing with leaders you don’t necessarily agree with…

This has always been hard for me, even after I air my grievances with a leader. But if you’re in the throes of a shitty situation at work that stems from your lack of faith in your leadership, here are a few options:

  1. Confront your leader — I know that this might be a hard pill to swallow, but facing the situation head on is the quickest route to understanding if something’s fixable or not. If it’s fixable, awesome. If not, then maybe it’s time to move on.
  2. Work more with your leader — If you work closely with your leader, it’ll lead to a few things. A better understanding of each others’ roles. You can see how they treat other workers. And hopefully you can find common ground.
  3. Focus on things you can control — If you don’t get along with a leader, then focus your attention on your work and doing it really, really well. Producing great results will set you a part.
  4. Maybe it’s time to find something else — If you’ve exhausted all other possibilities, then maybe it is time to leave. And there is no shame in that.

I’m positive that we’ve all been there. Working with leaders you can’t trust, can’t be honest with, or don’t agree with can make work a negative experience. Remember to hold on to your ethics and standards. and as long as you can be honest in a tactful and constructive way, you should be able to make your situation better, or find a better situation.

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