Taking You Seriously
By Jen Shirkani
Whether it’s the time you arrive at work, the way you sign your emails, or the accolades you give or neglect to give to team members at the year-end party—in all these ways, and many more, your employees are watching you. While many leaders know in a general sense that others are observing and reacting to them, they are often surprised by the degree of detail on which employees zero in. ”I understand your pet peeve is semicolons,“ I recently shared with a CEO client of mine, who chuckled with surprise that people had noticed. ”People are talking about that?“ he asked. Yep, people are talking about that.
As noted by Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria in Harvard Business Press’s Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, ”Although the power of the CEO’s position is often overestimated, in one respect it is sometimes underestimated—and that is its symbolic significance. CEOs we have studied are often surprised by how much their every behavior is scrutinized and the symbolic messages people derive from these behaviors.“ When the leader makes an offhand comment about hating semicolons, his team may interpret that as a directive on writing style for company emails. When the leader points out an employee for bringing lunch from home—while the rest of the team orders in—the employee may quickly calculate that, to fit into this culture, she has to give up her healthy midday meals and up her lunch budget.
Simple statements and actions often take on great weight when it’s the leader who’s making them. Individuals want to please the leader, out of deference and respect, and because they often perceive their jobs as depending on it. So they take each and every word and action by the leader seriously, even when the leader says something offhanded or even in jest.
If folks quietly tell one another not to send the boss emails with too many semicolons after they’ve heard him complain about them, as they did at my client’s company, just imagine how they react to more significant behavior on the part of the leader.
Taking you seriously
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