The First Rule of Leadership: Modeling the Standard

Charles de Solier, Sieur de Morette by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1534 – 1535

The most important part of leadership is modeling the standard – which can be plainly translated as walking the talk.  You have to hold yourself to the standards that you expect from your people.  If you do not, your people will see that you are a hypocrite and hence you lack integrity.  You will not be able to build trust and you will dissolve any trust you had. 

Trust is the currency of leadership.  It can be generously loaned out but always comes with interest.  The interest being a stipulation of quiet and judging observation.  If the leader acts in any way unfitting of a leader, the loan is immediately revoked.  In its place (if you are lucky) lies only the penalty of the interest and this time it is seemly insurmountable (though not impossible).  If you are a good leader that can act quickly and in a humble way, you may be able to lessen the impact of the interest; however, it will still be there. 

There are those that, for whatever reason (it doesn’t matter), do not give out loans.  They see trust as something to be earned.  If you want them to give you that loan you have to model that standard consistently and exceptionally.  Some people take a long time to come around and you can’t get emotional about it.  It is what it is and you have to accept it as part of your leadership burdens. 

These situations, of course, are only to be accepted if it is for the betterment of the team and its psychological safety.  If you as the leader have evaluated your ego and your behaviors to be of integrity and without hypocrisy, and an individual is causing damage to the group, then this is the time to cut ties.  A lack of training, honest mistakes, and not taking the time to team build are not good enough reasons to let someone go.  What is a good enough reason is the individual’s clear lack of respect (notice I didn’t say trust) for the team and the mission.

I encourage you as a leader to take on any respect issues in your organization.  Don’t shirk your duties onto a middle manager or another poor scapegoat.  Address what is happening directly.  If you don’t, people will perceive the workplace as unfair and hypocritical. And with hypocrisy there cannot be integrity.  And without integrity there is no trust.

I invite you to think about where your integrity meter points in the different facets of your life.  Are you in the green, yellow, or red?  No matter where you are, you can start closing your integrity gaps by holding yourself responsible and accountable to the standards.  You can build.  You can rebuild.  Give yourself the second chance that you would give to others.  Show people you are worth following; be the signal in the ocean of noise that guides them.  Model the standard.  Walk the talk.

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