Thursday, January 17, 2019

Underestimating How Much You're Being Watched

Whether it's the time you arrive at work, the way you sign off your emails, or the accolades you give or neglect to give to team members at the year-end party, in all these ways and much, much more, your employees are watching you. While many leaders know in a general sense that others are observing and reacting to them, they are often surprised at the degree of detail to which employees zero in. This week's article reminds you how to be the leader you want to see in others.   

Underestimating How Much You Are Being Watched

Make no mistake about it, everyone watches what you do. As a leader within an organization, your behavior - for good or for ill - is the primary model by which everyone else acts. People will follow your manners, conduct, even writing or presentation style. It's not a bad thing, necessarily. What is a bad thing is to underestimate or abuse it. For example, when the leader jokingly calls out an employee for bringing lunch from home - while the rest of the team orders in - the employee may quickly calculate that to fit into this culture, she has to give up her healthy mid-day meals and up her lunch budget. Simple statements and actions often take on great weight when it's the leader who's making them. Individuals want to please the leader, out of respect, and because they often perceive their jobs depend on it. So, they take each and every word and action by the leader seriously, even when the leader says something off-handed or even in jest.

Whereas the ego can make it easy to focus on self - and forget how others' see you and interpret your behavior - a sharpened EQ reminds you to step into other people's shoes and observe yourself objectively for a time. What is it that others see when they look at you? Do they see a leader who runs chronically late for meetings or who exempts oneself from company policy and values? Or, instead, do they see a leader who embodies company values, respects, and honors employees, and understands that even little actions by a leader make a big, important statement about the organization and its culture?

The Battle of Ego vs. EQ 

Just as ego says, "I am special," EQ reminds the leader, "I have a special role to play and I am watched." Where ego says, "I can do as I please without affecting others," EQ says, "My own behavior is my primary tool of influence to the group." When EQ is activated, there is a clear awareness of how self affects others that helps the leader to make the kinds of choices needed. EQ tells the executive to leave the late-night party at the conference at 11PM, not 2AM. It reminds the leader to pop onto the factory floor and say hello to the individuals who won last year's quality award before rushing off to the next meeting. It makes the sales director think twice before sending out an email to the team at 3AM, knowing that they might interpret it as a sign that the boss is losing sleep over an issue, not that she got back from a late-night flight, jetlagged, and is catching up on work. EQ reminds the leader that his every move is carefully watched, then interpreted, and often magnified.

Ask yourself:

1. Are there areas of my work where I preach one thing but do another?

2. When it comes to company procedures, do I hold myself accountable or act as if I'm above the rules? 

3. Do I behave pretty much the same way I did when I was younger in my career or have I matured into the leader my people need me to be?

4. When is the last time I was given tough feedback about my behavior that surprised me? Did I make a change? 

By increasing your awareness of how much you are being watched practice putting yourself in other people's shoes so you can start to better understand how your behaviors may be perceived. You can use the three R's to help you stay on track. 
First, recognize the behaviors and choices you engage in (self-awareness) that may be judged and interpreted by others.

  • Are you setting a positive and professional tone at meetings or can you come across as a little too casual or even sarcastic?
  • Which departments are you staying connected to and which, if any, are you neglecting?
Just as you size up others and make mental judgments, any area of your leadership and personal conduct is ripe for judgment or interpretation. Are you paying close attention to how you act and interact so you stay aware of your potential influence on others?

Given that you are being watched, and that your behaviors as the leader hold great sway over the group, it's important to take the time to read others (i.e., have empathy).
  • How might your behaviors be perceived by your team and your people in a given situation? You don't need to be psychic, just look for cues and helpful information.
  • Are you being mindful and paying attention enough to assess what the immediate situation calls for from you? In a group setting, note the non-verbals, such as body language, being displayed to help you get a better read.
It can also be helpful to work with a coach, who can offer you an outside perspective and help you empathize with others. Coaches give new sight where there are currently blind spots.

With better awareness of your own behaviors and insight into the ways they may be perceived by others, you can make adjustments (i.e., use self-control).
  • This may mean back-tracking, like making an apology for inappropriate past behavior (like chronically canceling meetings).
  • Other times, it may mean adjusting future behavior, like scheduling an appointment to meet with frontline workers you missed on your last site visit or putting a special thank you to these workers in the upcoming newsletter.
As a leader, you are allowed to be human; your EQ is there to help you make the best impression you can on others, whether from the start or to recover from lapses in behavior or judgment. People aren't drawn to perfection; they are inspired and influenced by vulnerability, humility, and courage.

As a leader, people look to you for guidance, validation, and culture setting. How you act, in each and every moment, has tremendous influence over your team; choose your behaviors as if the organization's success depended on them.

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