“Do leaders exemplify it? Is their behavior congruent with mission, vision and values? And, the majority of employees are saying they disagree with that statement, they’re not seeing that.”
Don: [00:00:14] My name is Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions, and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”
Don: [00:00:24] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create, engaging workplace environments, where employees feel safe, recognized and validated. Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive. Each week my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers CEOs and leaders tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.
Kelly: [00:01:05] Welcome. I’m your host, Kelly Burns, Vice President of Client Experiences at E3 Solutions. As always we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO, Don Rheem.
Kelly: [00:01:17] Welcome Don. And thank you for taking the time to be here with us.
Don: [00:01:20] It’s my pleasure, Kelly.
Kelly: [00:01:22] As we heard at the top of today’s episode this week’s focus is about leading by example.
Kelly: [00:01:28] We’ve been conducting positive leadership workshops here at E3 Solutions for the last three years. And, 83 percent of participants in these workshops say that the marker of positive leadership is someone who leads by example.
Kelly: [00:01:42] Unfortunately, a 2013 study from Root Inc., found that only 26 percent of workers strongly agree that managers actually embody the values they expect from their employees.
Kelly: [00:01:53] So we have a bit of a dissonance here, 83 percent of leaders say that leading by example, is a core marker of a positive leader. But only 26 percent of employees strongly agree that leaders actually do this.
Kelly: [00:02:06] In light of these statistics, what they essentially reveal, is that employees can recognize when a manager is leading by example and when there’s an absence of leading by example.
Kelly: [00:02:16] So that begs the question, Don, what does leading by example really mean?
Kelly: [00:02:19] Why Is it so important for workplace engagement when a manager leads by example?
Don: [00:02:24] Well, thank you, Kelly, for this intro. It’s a really important topic and it’s especially important in and among today’s workforce, among Millennials and Gen Z, anyone who’s 34 years of age and younger.
Don: [00:02:36] There is more focus by these employees on the values expressed by their immediate manager supervisor so that the cognitive dissonance typically occurs when a CEO or a very senior leaders in the organization at meetings with employees talk about the organization’s core values, how important they are, these are distinguishing characteristics. This is who we are as a company, this is core to our culture. And, yet that same employee going back to their workgroup and working under their particular manager or supervisor, don’t see those values expressed in the way that manager or supervisor leads and manages the team.
Don: [00:03:13] And, that kind of dissonance creates disengagement. Employees they now don’t believe the core values, they start to think, hey, this is just on paper. This isn’t something that we really need to worry about because my manager doesn’t.
Don: [00:03:28] What leaders at the top don’t want is to have this kind of cognitive dissonance. And we see this when we measure engagement inside organizations. We see in organizations where some managers get very high scores on our question. We have a specific question. Do leaders exemplify it? Is their behavior congruent with mission, vision and values? And, the majority of employees are saying they disagree with that statement. They’re not seeing that. And, we can see it for every manager in the organization, which ones get high scores on that question and in which ones get low scores. And, of course, the ones that tend to get lower scores are also getting lower scores, overall, across the other engagement metrics that we’re measuring.
Kelly: [00:04:10] If we’re not walking the talk as leaders then how can we expect our employees to buy into that mission, and to lead and operate in ways that the organization really value?
Don: [00:04:21] It’s so true in a way that the manager is setting the ceiling for behavior they’re setting the standard. And as I always tell our client companies and when we do these workshops with managers, I say you can’t expect your employees to be any more engaged than you are. You are the person setting the example for the group both behaviorally in terms of your attitude. All of those things come into play. It takes more than simply working hard or pushing to hit the numbers. You have to create an environment where employees feel that their leader is congruent and consistent and aligned if you will with the organization’s larger culture.
Kelly: [00:04:57] So you mentioned just now the attitude that a leader would have. What are some really practical ways that a leader leads by example? Attitude seems to be a core one.
Don: [00:05:06] It is you know. When we do our workshops with managers one of the things we ask at the end, we do kind of a wrap-up exercise, where we ask them: what are you going to stop doing? And, what are you not going to do anymore as a manager?
Don: [00:05:18] And, it’s just so interesting to see that constellation of inputs coming back when we gather it and they say I’m going to stop being cynical. I’m going to stop being negative. I’m going to stop gossiping. They’re seeing, you know what, I shouldn’t be doing this anymore. I’m the leader of the group. And, if I do it, if I fall into that same mode or attitude, or behavioral, set of behaviors for my employees that just encourages them to do the same. They start to realize they have to set a higher standard.
Don: [00:05:47] One of the things that I consider to be the difference between a manager and a leader, or rather the leadership part of a manager’s role. An average manager won’t be leading in terms of behaviorally and their attitude, but one that’s focused on true leadership will be.
Kelly: [00:06:05] So I want to talk about a real client story that demonstrates this in practice.
Kelly: [00:06:09] So we were at an insurance organization down south a few weeks back and we had a leader approach us and ask us how to effectively lead by example in a way that will change established negative behaviors.
Kelly: [00:06:20] This might be a familiar refrain for some people listening to the podcast. You’ve got a company that’s dealing with silos, with pervasive negativity in the team and this leader came up because they were seeking guidance on how to lead through this kind of a tough situation.
Kelly: [00:06:34] What does a leader need to do? What are some key first steps that they take when they’re trying to move past the way an organization operates on a day to day basis to lead by example into a healthier workplace culture?
Don: [00:06:47] There are a number of ways to go out it. First, is to make the covert, overt. That is to simply acknowledge the way it has been done. And saying you know what, I just don’t think I’m that comfortable with this way anymore, we’ve done this, we’ve done that. But when we look at our core values and who we are as a company and a culture I’m not sure that we’re helping the company in those behaviors. So just acknowledge the behaviors but do it using the pronoun, “we.” We haven’t been doing this well. Don’t try to single employees out. This isn’t about blaming people. This is simply a little bit of an introspective look. How have we been behaving as a team? And, is this the best way to behave both for the customer the client, the service, the product, but also for our culture.
Don: [00:07:28] And, then, what we recommend is picking one of the core values and creating a shared sense of social identity around that value. So someone might pick the value integrity for example and you say, you know, do we all believe in integrity and its importance in the workplace and hopefully all hands in the team go up. And then the leader says and this is done on a whiteboard or on a flip chart. You say okay well what does integrity look like in the workplace.
Don: [00:07:53] And if I was to ask you Kelly what does integrity look like in the workplace, what are some of the things that you might reflect back to me?
Kelly: [00:07:59] I show up on time, I do the job I’m supposed to do, I treat my colleagues with respect, I support collaboration, there’s a number of factors.
Don: [00:08:08] Yeah. And and so you’re writing these things down on the flip chart you’re turning the team saying, hey, is this what we’re saying should be the standards for ourselves and they’re the ones that offered the behaviors.
Don: [00:08:19] In essence here what I’m asking managers and leaders to do, take the value which tends to be sometimes kind of obscure and amorphous. I mean we all know what it is we want. We all want to be a part of it, close to it, then make it real, start talking about what are the behavioral norms of someone who is actually living that value at work.
Kelly: [00:08:38] I think in terms of leading by example one of the key first steps, whether it’s before having that conversation with a team or during that conversation, is that the leader would take ownership over their role in how it’s been and how it’s going to be moving forward. That requires a lot of vulnerability, a lot of transparency. But if a leader is truly going to lead by example but they don’t own up to the areas in which they have fallen short of that example, it might feel disingenuous or hard for employees to come on board or buy into a new way of operating.
Don: [00:09:10] It’s such a good point, Kelly. If employees are going to say, hey you know what, I don’t think I’ve done this very well. If they’re going to be vulnerable like that it’s really important for the leader to have led by example. That’s okay. Hey, I’m vulnerable too, I’m not sure I did this well as a leader. And, it’s unfortunate in Western culture that we’ve pejoratized vulnerability to mean weakness. And it really doesn’t.
Don: [00:09:33] What we know is that when we are we’re vulnerable as is human beings to others, whether it’s at work or at home or anyway, the typical response isn’t to think the person is weak, the typical response is to lean in to help. And so when the leader said gosh I’m not sure we’ve done this very well. I’m not sure I’ve done this very well. They’re not going to turn around and attack this leader, they’re going to say you know what, yeah, maybe you haven’t, but you know what, I haven’t either. And that’s the kind of environment we want to create. It’s open, it’s talking about what we’ve done in a way that’s non-punitive, non-shaming, non-blaming, but just acknowledging even if it’s just on the principle of continuous improvement, hey we could do this better. Don’t you agree?
Kelly: [00:10:10] Despite taking the correct steps to lead by example, what if a manager finds themselves in a situation where leading by example is a struggle for some reason for them? What do they do?
Don: [00:10:20] They can look at what is it about them that’s making it a struggle. And so I’m going to go into some of the neuroscience here. We sometimes struggle around those things that we are afraid of, that we’re unfamiliar with. I think we should just acknowledge that it is a struggle and then we can ask why.
Don: [00:10:36] It would be helpful if they could load share with another manager. Ask another manager or a group of managers, hey, what do you do? How do you respond when this happens? Don’t try to do it alone. That’s really the hardest way to resolve a behavioral issue like this is to try to do it on your own. You need to be able to come alongside someone else and load share with them say hey what would you do. This is what I’m doing it’s not working. That’s probably what I would suggest more than anything else. It’s a great thing when a manager has other managers that they can lean in with.
Kelly: [00:11:07] That’s something that I think is really important that you’re talking about here. But leaders often struggle with a sense of loneliness or a sense of not having that safe space to have that conversation to be that vulnerable with somebody else whether it be a peer or a mentor of some sort. And the higher you go up in the food chain in an organization the lonelier it tends to get. So finding that safe space finding a mentor somebody you can confide in whose wisdom you trust to help you lead by example when it gets hard, is really critical for a leader to try and find for lifelong leadership.
Don: [00:11:40] Yeah we are hardwired as a species, as herd animals and what that means is not only is it mean we we’d like to be with other human beings, but the key thing that I talk about in the book and we talk about in our training sessions, is it means that human beings will only perform at their highest capacity when they can do so with others. Doing things in isolation, and there’s a standardized test now for emotional isolation. When we are isolated to your point we underperform. We rob the brain of its full capacity. So and it is true that leaders are some of the most emotionally isolated people in our U.S. culture, and it’s because they think they have to have all the answers or should have all the answers and this again to bring back your term vulnerability we were talking about before. Don’t try to be perfect, don’t try to be everything. We’re all evolving too and it’s okay for people to know that.
Kelly: [00:12:27] Stepping back just a bit, how do managers gauge if leading by example is making a positive impact in their team or their culture?
Don: [00:12:34] I think they can look at you know this role of being a mentor, a coach, an example, a modeler of good behavior. Are they seeing the behaviors of other team members also change and shift? They should also simply feel better that the way they are performing as a leader is more congruent with the organization’s core values.
Don: [00:12:54] You know we’ve been doing this now Kelly for eight years. One of the things that I’ve learned is that when managers change their behavior they expect to see people acknowledge and recognize it right away.
Kelly: [00:13:03] As they should.
Don: [00:13:05] But it takes employees a little bit longer to understand if this shift in change is truly authentic. And I think it can take anywhere from six to 18 months in some cases where, for example, trust has really been violated. Employees are looking to see is this new behavior, by my leader, is it consistent and predictable?
“What I would tell managers and supervisors when you make these changes: be patient. The only way out is through, just keep doing it.”
Don: [00:13:23] So, what I would tell managers and supervisors when you make these changes: be patient. The only way out is through, just keep doing it. And, you will see the results, maybe not from everyone on the team. There may be some employees are just so cynical and burned out that they’re not going to recognize it. But you should start to get some of this feedback and is on another whole feedback issue. But if managers are having them a monthly conversation with employees like we recommend they do and they’re asking the question, hey, what could I do differently what could I do better. They should start to hear some of their new behaviors and attitudes and approaches and leadership styles reflected in these monthly conversations.
Kelly: [00:14:00] One of the key markers that might show if they’re making a positive impact is the retention piece. Are there team members staying or are they jetting out the door?
Kelly: [00:14:08] A recent Gallup poll of more than a million employed American workers concluded that the number one reason employees quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor.
Kelly: [00:14:18] At the end of the day what question should a leader be asking themselves to identify if they’re leading by example to make sure that they inhabit the best behaviors possible so they don’t contribute to the statistic?
Don: [00:14:30] Well, you mentioned this turnover and this is one of the ways that employees are speaking most clearly about how they feel about their leader. It was just a few months ago that we hit a new labor record in the United States and that was in the number of employees quitting voluntarily, 3.8 million in one month. We’ve never seen that many employees quit. And these employees aren’t quitting to go on the unemployment rolls. They’re quitting. In a sense a lot of them out of protest for the conditions of where they work because they know the conditions can be better somewhere else.
Don: [00:15:03] One of the things a leader should be looking for is the team is together. We’re retaining our key players. They’re working well together. There’s going to be less drama. They’re going to be less issues, people are going to be more engaged in the work that they do and productive. They’re gonna be offering more suggestions about how we could do things better. Just the look and feel of the whole team should begin to shift and improve. But a leader needs to now look. Leading by example is not an event. It’s not one thing they do. It’s a process of doing a lot of things differently over time.
Kelly: [00:15:32] To summarize the conversation that we’ve had today, leading by example is something that all managers or the majority of managers say is an important aspect of a positive leader.
Kelly: [00:15:43] However, only about 26 percent of employees say that their managers actually embody that characteristic. In order to start doing so better managers need to be vulnerable and open about where they have fallen short, and then bring their team together to have conversations that build in new ways of operating new structures, new ways of embodying core values, where everyone can come on board to lead by example. And finally, leading by example has core impact on retention on productivity on engagement. It impacts the culture at its very core which is why it’s such a critical component of how a manager leads on a day to day basis.
Don: [00:16:25] I couldn’t agree more, Kelly. One other thing I would just throw in for managers and supervisors. You want to lead by example, be intentional.
“You want to lead by example, be intentional. Begin the day with the intent to do something that reflects a core value and then use the core values in daily vocabulary.”
Don: [00:16:33] Begin the day with the intent to do something that reflects a core value and then using the core values in their daily vocabulary. I see you Kelly do something and I don’t want to say, hey, Kelly great job. I want to say, hey Kelly you were so respectful to that customer that client in the way they were treating you and behaving and I love seeing our core value come out in your behavior. So acknowledge it when other people are doing it, name it, and then start your day in a very intentional way.
Kelly: [00:17:01] That’s it for today. I’m your host. Kelly Burns thank you for listening.
Kelly: [00:17:05] Tune in to next week’s episode, Equip Managers to Lead.
Kelly: [00:17:10] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t wait. Check out E3 Solutions.com right now. Be sure to subscribe rate and review the show. Each rating and review helps other managers like you find this show and benefit from these episodes.
[00:17:34] Thrive By Design is produced and audio engineered by Megan Rummler. All music in this episode is sourced royalty free from melodyloops.com.
Kelly: [00:17:43] Thank you for listening and subscribe wherever you enjoy your podcasts. See you next week!