As obvious as it seems, many leaders forget that their actions speak louder than their words. I was managing a department at a medium-sized organization that had a casual dress code on Friday. One of the vice presidents decided that casual Fridays were a bad idea and mandated that everyone wear corporate casual every day. For my department, that was inconvenient because we saved most of our dirty work for Friday when we were wearing jeans.
However, even if it was inconvenient for our department, I explained to everyone that the organization was trying to maintain a professional image. No one in my department liked the change, but they were fine with adhering to it.
The second Friday after the change, all of my staff was in the office and wearing the corporate dress code. In walked the vice president who had made the change. He was wearing the same casual clothes that he had prohibited two weeks earlier.
When he left our department, all of my staff turned to ask if they could dress like that as well. We stuck with the mandated dress code for several months before it was finally repealed.
While the vice president had enough authority to get away with not following his own rules, he should have known better. Even if he had a very good reason for it, he should have been more aware that saying one thing and doing another is very poor leadership practice.
If you are going to ask others to adhere to a certain level of conduct, you should expect to adhere to it yourself. If you want your staff to be in the office by 8 am, you should be there before they arrive. If you tell your staff not to park in the customer area, your leadership will suffer if you decide that your importance makes you exempt from the rule.
People can follow what you say without actually following the intent. When this happens, the effectiveness of your organization is decreased. If they don’t see you following your own set of rules, they may follow them to the letter, but don’t expect them to go the extra mile to try to understand the intent.
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