993 Min

Touchy, Feely Trust Fall Kind of Stuff (well, not really)

“You give loyalty, you’ll get it back. You give love, you’ll get it back.” —Tommy Lasorda

We got a call from our son’s school the other day. It wasn’t because he was winning the Student of the Year award. No, it was one of those dreaded conversations where you hear that your child did  something so absurdly ridiculous you go right to, “What in the world was he thinking?!?!” My son is 14 — at that age, I wasn’t exactly joining the Peace Corps or helping Ms. Guthrie get her cat out of the tree. So, I knew I should cut him some slack.

When he got home, we sat him down and calmly asked, “Will you help us understand why you thought it was a good idea to…”

His answer really took us back. I think even the most well-balanced parents trained in Love and Logic would have gone running and screaming from our house. He looked me straight in the face and said, “Because the school’s rules didn’t say I couldn’t.” Really? Why couldn’t he have applied that logic to an action like using his allowance to buy teachers appreciation gifts?  I’m pretty sure school rules don’t say anything about not doing that!

This situation got me wondering: is it this line of reasoning that sometimes causes leadership to go wrong? Have you ever heard a leader justify a decision he made with the business equivalent of, “Because the rules didn’t say I couldn’t?” How did it impact the way you felt about the company you worked for? Here’s the deal: every company I’ve ever worked for or been exposed to wants their customers to love them.

And I’ve learned in my executive career that your customers will never love you if your team members don’t love you first.

Admittedly, love is a strong word. In the business world, it’s only earned by invested and involved leaders who treat their team well—especially when something big changes in the workplace. Some leaders think that’s soft and squishy. They proclaim they “don’t have time” to “bring people along” because they need to focus on the “real work.” Maybe that’s the reason Gallup reports almost 70% of the US workforce is not engaged/actively disengaged; maybe that’s the reason 70% of all change initiatives fail. To me, it sounds like soft and squishy might actually be hard and tangible.

But then again, I don’t believe change and innovation is an end-user or team member problem; it’s a leadership opportunity.

While traditional change tactics like communications and training place the burden squarely on the shoulders of the people receiving a big change, (I believe) there are conditions that leaders solely own and influence … and determine whether success is even possible at an execution level.

Conditions like alignment, where executives are absolutely clear on WHY they are pushing a big change—and communicate that WHY every day to team members. Yes, daily! Conditions like capacity, and ensuring people have the time of day to absorb the new “Thing.” These are just a couple of the head-slapping, intuitive conditions that influence success. Seems obvious, but leaders often ignore them.

It’s been said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but in the case of leadership it absolutely does not work that way.

Team members need their leaders available and willing to provide crystal clear clarity to avoid organizational dysfunction and confusion. Speaking of clarity, seems like my son might need more of it. And one thing I need him to know: even a good excuse will never justify bad behavior. Sometimes you do things because you just know it’s right. Some call that soft and squishy. I call that hard and real.

Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a best-selling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.