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Always on the Stage

| November 1, 2016

by Jim Bruce

Always on the Stage

We say over and over again “Leaders are always on the stage.”  Why?  Because someone is always watching.  Someone is always taking the leader’s behavior to inform their impression of her or him and as an example of how to behave.  Good or bad, it’s OK.  We think, if it works for her or him, it’ll work for me;  if he or she can get away with it, so can I.
Michael Schrage, research fellow at the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Center for Digital Business, provides some food for thought along these lines in a recent essay Like It or Not, You Are Always Leading By Example.
In his essay, Schrage makes the point that competence, character, creativity, and charisma, while all very desirable characteristics for leaders to have, are very difficult to measure.  He notes, however, that the simple question How do you lead by example? evokes greater self-awareness and actionable insights.  Schrage also says that he has identified no better diagnostic for promoting authentic revelations around personal leadership style and substance.  Among other things, it pushes leaders to think about how others interpret their behavior.  Credible responses require empathy and introspection.
Schrage has been asking senior leaders to list the three most important – or effective – ways that they lead by example for 15 years.  Here are several examples that he included in his essay:

  • “A Silicon Valley start-up CEO attended his company’s diversity/inclusivity training workshop for the entire day.  ‘Everyone needed to know I took this seriously,’ he said.”
  • “A manufacturing executive pointed to her on- and off-site Spanish lessons so she could better communicate with her workforce.”
  • “A senior project manager cited the highly public immediate dismissal of a direct report who had fudged a quality control audit and lied about it.”

Schrage’s question – What’s the most important, or effective, way you lead by example? – prompted me to ask that question of myself.  Here’s what I wrote:

  • Never ask anyone to do for you what you are unwilling to do for yourself. [Something I learned from my maternal grandfather after watching him alongside a group of laborers shovel out an out-house one hot summer day in East Texas in the late 1940s.]
  • Learn or teach something, coach or be coached on something in every conversation.  [Personal growth and passing it along is one of the most important things a person can do in his or her life.]
  • Don’t throw people under the bus, coach them in private.  [Protect your staff, help them learn and grow.]
  • Trust, verify, and be trusted.  [One of the most important characteristic of being a leader.]

Those are some of my answers to the question.  What about you?  This is an important question for all leaders to take some time and contemplate.  How would you answer the question?
Do take some time to think about the question, write your responses down, and send them to me.  I will use them (or a selection of them, if there are too many), with or without attribution as you choose for the November 29, 2016 Tuesday Reading.  And, in addition to sending your responses along to me, perhaps you might post a copy where you can see it as you work to remind you to be aware that you are always setting examples.
You are always on the stage.  You cannot know everyone who will use your behavior as an model to follow.  Think about it.  Be very mindful of the examples you are setting.
Make your week a great one.  .  .  .   jim
Michael Schrage, Like It or Not, You Are Always Leading By Example, Harvard Business Review, October 5, 2016.