If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.
How important is it to represent the organization properly? This question has come to mind in rapid-fire succession these past few weeks as we witness people doing exactly the wrong things while representing their organizations on a daily or weekly basis.
I was raised in a family that taught me to always do the right thing because others were watching and you did not want to tarnish the family name. This was simple ethics: an established standard of behavior based upon doing a good (right) thing. I recall my dad telling me that my name was all I had and it would be mine for my entire life; I should take very good care of it.
Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing. ~ Albert Schweitzer
As I progressed into adulthood and went into military service, the Air Force became my new family and I worked hard to not tarnish the “family name”. In my first years of service, I forgot this once and received a DUI that brought negative attention to me and my unit; it changed my life and refocused me on what was important. As I increased in rank and responsibility, I clearly understood that I was expected to be a role model for proper behavior: it was called leading by example. I never forgot that I represented the name I proudly displayed over my heart to all who saw me…U.S. Air Force.
Proper behavior can be a wide-ranging topic for interpretation. In the Air Force, it was clear that our Core Values were the foundation that proper behavior was built upon and this was further supported by clear expectation of ethics and morals. As a leader, I worked to diligently ensure everyone understood what was expected of them with regards to our Core Values (fundamental beliefs of the organization), Ethics (right from wrong), and Morals (acceptable behaviors). I also was clear to explain the consequences of failures in these areas. I was very cognizant that I must lead by example at all times.
One aww-sh*t can erase 10,000 attaboys ~ Anonymous Air Force Leader
Humans make mistakes. It is part of life. As we mature and assume increased responsibilities, commitments, and influence, the cost of mistakes increases exponentially. It is incumbent upon leaders to ensure their followers know what the organization identifies as a mistake and what the price of a mistake is. I often ask myself, “are leaders doing this in the 21st century?”
The employees must love the company before the customers ever will. ~ Simon Sinek
In the past 15 days, we have witnessed senior level executives selling off their company stock a few days before a major corporate failure was announced. We also observed a school librarian publicly identify that “her” school believes a world-renowned children’s author’s books have racist material in them and most every child in America has been raised with these books, and we have very-recently read the words of a now former-CBS legal executive identifying that people who were murdered did not deserve sympathy due to their possible political representation. As each of these pop-ups occurred, I asked myself, where is the connection to the Company’s Ethics, Morals, and Values in this person’s displayed actions, statements, or behaviors? Where is their awareness to leadership by example? Do they not realize their responsibility to the organization and all of its employees?
When I retired from the Air Force I went to work for a good friend who has worked his entire life building his name as a high-quality farmer, steward of the land, and trustworthy businessman and valued community member. He had been friends for 21 years. When I started driving his trucks, with his name proudly displayed on them, I told him I would take care not to tarnish his “family name” and I remind myself of that commitment every time I get behind the wheel. Sometimes when I stop to help others or I pick up a broom to clean up at the facility or business I am unloading at I realize that I may be doing the work or taking the action but it is his “family name” that they see and will remember after I am gone. I am representing him and I have a moral and ethical obligation to do it the best I can every single day.
Do your employees know what their role in representing the “family name” is? Do they clearly know what the Core Values, Ethics, and Morals of the organization are? Do they understand the consequences of their actions if they cast a negative shadow across the organization and its employees through their statements and actions? Do they know they are representing every employee and the organization 24/7 and 365?
Leadership is 100% positive representation 100% of the time. It can be done good or bad. Our role as leaders is to ensure everyone understands how we expect it, why we expect it, and what the outcome will be if they do it right or do it wrong.