You Aren’t a Perfect Leader. But Your People Still Expect It.

by Jennifer Miller on October 6, 2014

in Leadership

Culture Engine We're all HumanIf you’ve ever held a leadership position, you’ve probably already figured this out: you are held to a higher standard. You are expected to be more. More authentic, more compassionate and most importantly, more ethical than the average working Joe or Jane in your office. Your daily actions are intensely scrutinized. Author S. Chris Edmonds, author of the book The Culture Engine, jokingly tells his coaching clients, “Now that you’re a leader, you’ll never be able to run a yellow light in this town again.”

I agree with Chris on this point. Taking on a leadership role is a huge responsibility and the scrutiny can be intense. Is it fair? No. But it’s the responsibility of leadership and you must buy into this if you are to have a thriving, healthy culture for your department. (Or, for your division or organization, if you have a wider scope of responsibility.)

Here’s the rub: nobody’s perfect. Being “more” seems like an impossibly tall order. But before you run away screaming, “I can’t do this!” let me offer you these two suggestions.

#1. When you do screw up (and you will, on occasion), you must apologize. Chris suggests saying something like, “I’m better than that. It won’t happen again.” Here are an additional seven ways to apologize.

And this is very, very important:

#2. Be sure your goofs-to-doing-it-right ratio is on target. You cannot screw up all the time. If you do, you become a Serial Apologizer and you will lose credibility. Nobody will believe the sincerity of your apologies. Plus, if you use the apology Chris suggests (“It won’t happen again”), you are also a liar.

So what is the “right” ratio? This is my “people equation” based on years of working with leaders: be sure you are doing it right way more than you are doing wrong.

How much is that? For you numbers-oriented people, let’s break it down into something measureable.

Let’s say that you are in alignment with your values 95% of the time. I like nice, round numbers, so let’s suppose that during the course of a month, you have the opportunity to demonstrate your department’s stated values 100 times. That shouldn’t be too hard to do. There are roughly 20 work days in a month, so that’s five times each day that you demonstrate a positive example of your department’s values. So, if you’re going for a 95% values alignment, that means you will screw up five times during that month and offer an apology.

How does that sound to you? Seem like five apologies is too many? Should you increase your success rate to 98%?

The point is, there is no magic “formula” that will ensure your leadership effectiveness with your team. But there are definitely right ways and wrong ways to build a positive, healthy culture with your team. The first step to achieving this state is to own up to your mistakes and, as Edmonds say, “live” your stated values. So you can do this. You won’t be perfect (nobody is), but with attention to understanding when you’re out of alignment with the values you espouse, you can set a positive example for your team.

If you want to learn more about the concepts in Edmonds’ book, the Culture Engine series, which features my interview with Chris, as well as other posts related to his book. Are you on social media? Check out #TheCultureEngine to follow trending topics on this book.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for the purposes interviewing the author. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Please know that I only share information that I believe will be useful to my readers. For more information, see The People Equation disclosure statement.

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