Don’t Look Now But You’re Being Watched


I was in a high level meeting at a huge company once when the leader in the room sent an assistant out to retrieve lunch.  The executive had not eaten lunch yet and it was creeping into the afternoon hours so not all that uncommon.  What happened next though, shocked me.  When lunch was brought in, the executive was having a little difficulty eating the deli sandwich and so the assistant was summoned again, left with the sandwich, and returned with it cut into bite sized pieces.  Did I really just watch a multi-million dollar a year executive have someone cut their food up for them? With a fully stocked pantry armed with sharp utensils just steps away?

It’s not surprising that I don’t remember what else happened during the meeting, I’m sure the other participants don’t remember either, especially since it was a while back.  The food-cutting incident however, became the stuff of legend.  Everyone was buzzing after the meeting about how the behavior had shocked them as well but I can guarantee you that there were a few in the meeting who thought, “wow, I can’t wait until I get to the level where someone cuts my food up for me”.

I know the executive didn’t intend for the action to be interpreted that way but as a leader in a business, everything that is said or done contributes to the perception of the quality of the leader and the culture of the organization.   Others are watching how leaders behave in every situation from how they speak to the waiter at a business dinner to how they deal with their direct reports.  The behaviors of leaders in any organization send millions of signals as to what’s accepted, or not, within the company.

The rest of the organization then makes daily decisions based on what they’ve seen or heard the leaders do in their company.  After all, the leaders must certainly know how you should behave here; they got promoted for how they behave and paid more because of it.  It’s a dangerous situation if the leaders in the organization are behaving differently than the stated values or the desired culture.  Do that for long and the culture and values will shift, no matter what’s written on the plaque at headquarters.

As an executive, your role is different, your salary is different, and so are the expectations.  You have to always remember that the little things you do will get magnified and possibly misinterpreted as they filter through the organization.  The actions of leaders will literally shift the culture; the good news is that they can shift it both ways.  The actions you take to help, encourage, support and reward people gets talked about as well and can go a long way toward cementing the kind of values and culture you want the business to have. Every time you choose an action that gets seen by others you throw a rock in the water.  Make sure the ripples are the kind you want the organization to see.

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