When you look around a company and see a common set of behaviors, you can usually tie it back to the behaviors of the leaders.

Positive, focused, driven behaviors by leaders set an example for the team, and it's very common for the team to generally behave in the same way and have similar attitudes. It's contagious. And people tend to rise to the level of expectation or standard.

The same holds true for the negative behaviors displayed by leaders. When the team regularly sees poor behavior, they begin to see it as acceptable and respond accordingly. People also tend to lower their output to the level of expectation or standard.

Poor behaviors that are demonstrated and tolerated are morale busters. Lack of effort, inspiration, courage, and follow-through by a leader can deflate even the most positive of people. Here are some behaviors you might recognize in your leaders or the team:

  • Not making decisions, avoiding commitments, not implementing scheduled changes
  • Lack of responsiveness to communications
  • Putting in minimum effort to achieve minimum expectations
  • Not meeting deadlines and goals
  • Not following through on commitments
  • Canceling and not showing up for meetings or appointments
  • Playing favorites based on relationships and not results
  • Making excuses for these behaviors rather than owning up to the real Why

If this sounds all too familiar, then it's time to do some evaluation to understand the real cause for these behaviors. Is it just an individual or two in the company behaving like this (performance issue)? Or is it pervasive throughout (cultural & leadership issue)?

Creating an unintentional culture through actions

Scenario #1:

A common element in small businesses is often family. Hiring children, siblings, cousins, spouses, and even close friends is the norm. And when this is the case, it is absolutely critical to have company values and behaviors formally outlined. It becomes much too easy to make exceptions to every rule because you have to see this person at home or at family gatherings. When you've got family relationships in the office, keep a fair balance with both family and non-family staff alike by making decisions using the same criteria for everyone.

Outcome: When family members are allowed to skirt the rules such as not meeting goals or attending meetings, it creates an environment of animosity, which might not have otherwise been there. These things tend to take on a life of their own, so it can easily and rapidly spread throughout the company, creating a whole culture of resentment and entitlement, rather than focusing on the collective company goals.

Scenario #2:

Sometimes lazy behaviors get started as a result of distractions and lack of focus. I worked at a company where there was a "hurry up and forget it" attitude. Bright and shiny ideas would come along and everyone would stop what they were currently working on to focus on the new thing. After putting in significant work, leadership would have forgotten about it altogether and then question those working on it as to why they were spending time that way. Huh?

Outcome: The team learned not to respond when a new idea was proposed and developed very lazy attitudes: not following directions and only putting forth minimum effort. This eventually led to a general lack of respect for management and a cynical attitude about new initiatives, regardless of the sincerity.

Scenario #3:

I worked with a leader who routinely didn't show up for scheduled meetings, walked in late, and didn't participate in team practice sessions.

Outcome: The members of the team regularly scheduled other "more important" meetings during team meetings, felt no urgency to show up on time, and always opted for those "more important" things other than improving their performance. It showed in the team results and resentment built among different areas of the company due to this self-important attitude.

Scenario #4:

I had a boss who was developing a side gig – on company time. He kept himself locked in his office on the phone and having secret meetings. He paid very little attention to the efforts of the team and any behavior became acceptable.

Outcome: The team began showing up late, taking extra-long lunches, and leaving early. Results? What results?

How do you turn it around?

If you've got a leader displaying negative behaviors, the only way you can turn the organization around is to address it.

If you're the leader, then ask for an honest assessment from your leadership team, and ask for help and accountability to make the necessary changes.

If you're not the leader, then it's going to take someone in the company willing to have a potentially difficult conversation with the leader, pointing out the behaviors and the negative impact they are having on the organization.

If you're in a position where you can't be that person directly influencing the leader's behaviors, you have a few choices, depending on your role.

  • You can do nothing.
  • You can talk to a person who could influence the leader and help them see the situation, encouraging them to take on that conversation.
  • You can create your own set of values and create your own sub-culture within your group or department.
  • You can choose to leave.

None of these things are easy for anyone, but if an environment is not healthy and does not provide a beneficial situation for you, your team, and your organization, someone should try to change it. Whether that’s you, your CEO, your HR Department, your Board of Directors, or other key influencers, it needs to be done. Breaking poor behavior patterns is the best course of action to get your leadership and your company back on track.

If this isn’t happening, you should be prepared for continued problems and an exodus of your best talent. You may also need to recognize that your best decision may come down to removing yourself.

Photo by Anna Nikonorova

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