Thursday, April 11, 2013

Above the Rules

           It was open enrollment time (when employees have to select their health insurance plan and other benefits) at a regional assisted living company, and one of the owners, Peter, was given the paperwork to make his selections. Unfortunately, the paperwork sat on Peter’s desk for weeks so the VP of Human Resources had to remind him several times that the deadline was approaching. Still the forms were not turned in. Fearful that Peter would miss the deadline completely and lose his and his family’s health insurance, the VP of HR went to another owner and asked for her help in nudging Peter along. When Peter’s business partner asked him about it, Peter exploded. “I shouldn’t have to do this sh#*. I am a f-ing owner!”

 Everyone understood that paperwork was not on Peter’s ideal “to-do” list, but the reality was that no one could select Peter’s personal health coverage but him. His adolescent-like reaction was not the most becoming response an owner could give to a task that every other employee in the company was also asked to do, with the exact same deadline and consequences for non-compliance.  In reacting like he did—without self-awareness or self-control—Peter failed to ask himself what kind of example he was setting for the organization. As his ego took hold, he forgot about everyone else on the team. Of course, word got out about the incident and team members did take notice. The negative consequences were more than Peter looking bad. Employees now had implicit permission to not take required tasks from HR seriously. So, the question was, what would happen if every employee had the same attitude as Peter? What kind of company would Peter have?

Leaders like Peter believe that the very rules everyone else in the organization has to follow don’t apply to them. It’s another manifestation of Trap 6. Ego in this case says, “I’m special.” Ego says, “People know these aren’t my strong suits so they’ll give me a pass.” In reality, although the role of leader may come with special power and privilege, the leader who abuses that power runs the risk of unintended consequences. Choices and behaviors may get mimicked, roll downhill, and reach a critical mass so that the leader no longer has control over the organizational culture. Late to every meeting? A leader shouldn’t be surprised if the team slacks off on the punctuality thing. Talking about team members behind their backs? Maybe it’s not so hard to figure out why the team is acting catty and dysfunctional. The organizational culture is often a reflection of the behavior at the top, for better or worse.

 

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