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As a Leader, Everything We Do Sets an Example

Aug 15, 2013 by Ari Weinzweig 0 Comments

*Excerpted from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 3: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Managing Ourselves

As much as we may not want them to, the reality of every workplace is that the staff is watching our behaviors very closely.  They watch how we deal with customers, how we handle money, how well we meet our commitments.  They look at little things and big things alike.    They see it all.  They hear it all.  And, through our vibrational energy, they actually feel it all too.  What that means for workplace leadership is that we need to mindfully manage our own behavior in order to set the tone we desire on all fronts.   Certainly, just leading by example won’t insure that our organizations are successful.  But it always improves the odds.  And there is absolutely no down side to modeling the behaviors you want your staff to pick up on.

In "The Corporate Mystic," the authors, Kate Ludemens and Gay Hendrickson, argue that, "When you are the source, you take full responsibility for bringing into being the corporate culture you want."  The culture of our organization begins with our own behaviors.  If we want a high integrity organization, it will be by definition to start with what we do.

The good news is that one of the most effective ways we can improve the performance of our organization and change its culture for the better is hence to alter our own behavior.  Regardless of what others do, when we change the way we work we will always create some sort of impact on the organization.  It may not always be easy.  But given that energies are always, appropriately, limited, given that everything we choose to do is basically an investment in something we believe in, here are some of the more significant areas of operation in which changing our own behavior will influence our organization are:

  • What we pay attention to, measure and actively manage.   As we know, whenever we opt to measure something it will get better, so what we choose is sure to have a meaningful impact on the rest of the organization.  If we measure individual performance more than anything else . . . we’ll get a group of individual performers; measure group achievement and the team is pretty sure to steadily pull together.
  • The ways we define success.  This is in essence about vision—it's where we’ve dedicated ourselves to going.  What goes in the vision (and what’s left out of it) will surely send strong messages about what we value, what we think about others in our lives, and how we see the world around us.
  • The way we react to critical incidents and crises.  This is especially important where there are ethical issues at hand, which is, of course, pretty much every day.  The quickest way to undermine our principles is to abandon them under pressure.
  • The criteria we use in allocating rewards and promotions.  When you reward those who model desired behaviors, those who have come through on commitments, who are creative, principled, etc. you send a clear message to the organization that these are the things you value.  On the other hand, if you promote someone who is clearly not living our guiding principles, you send a message that your principles aren’t really all that important.
  • The little things matter.  To quote my partner Paul, “Small kindnesses, small considerations and small courtesies habitually practiced will give a wonderful charm to your personality and make people want to be around you, listen to you. No one owes you their attention, you need to earn it.”
  • Who we trust.  Paul, I think, is a master of this, and I’ve learned a LOT from him on the subject.  His advice?  “Start out by trusting others. I think that this is essential. It is so easy for us to believe that we are personally trustworthy but doubt the motives of others. We are not authentic, sincere or worthy of trust if we don't begin with mutual trust.”
  • What we teach.  As you improve your leadership in the workplace you’ll find yourself teaching more and more often.  Whether in formal or informal ways, what you teach to your staff will have a significant impact on the way they learn and the way they view their workplace.

This is, I know, a long list.  The good news is that anyone can embrace any or all of its components.  Implementing any of these tips will get you at least moderately good results. Even a modest effort will make a meaningful difference.

One last thought though—please don’t wait until you’re “ready” to move forward on these things.   If you're waiting for the day to come when you feel completely comfortable with doing all of the above, well . . . that day might likely never come.   Honestly it's never really come for me.  I just started doing the work anyways.  As someone (I can't remember who) much smarter than I said a long time ago, often, "the action must precede the emotion." You start working on this stuff, and then, only much later, can you get comfortable.

Join Ari at The 21st Annual Gathering of Games to learn more about this topic at his session: Managing Yourself as a Leader in an Open-Book Business. Learn more about conference speakers; including Ari.

The 21st Annual Gathering of Games is September 4-6 in St. Louis, Missouri. Register Today!

Topics: Leadership

Ari Weinzweig
Written by Ari Weinzweig

In 1982, Ari Weinzweig, along with his partner Paul Saginaw, founded Zingerman's Delicatessen with a $20,000 bank loan, a Russian History degree from the University of Michigan, 4 years of experience washing dishes, cooking and managing in restaurant kitchens and chutzpah from his hometown of Chicago. They opened the doors with 2 employees and a small selection of specialty foods and exceptional sandwiches. Today, Zingerman's Delicatessen is a nationally renowned food icon and the Zingerman's Community of Businesses has grown to 10 businesses with over 700 employees and over $60 million in annual revenue.

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