I recently spoke with a colleague, Richard Bistrong, who is a compliance, ethics, and anti-bribery consultant. Richard shares his perspective about passive leadership: how it comes up when managing your business processes, and how to avoid this model and lead your teams actively. Richard defines passive leadership as a leader who is not clear in their goal-setting communication. Everyone is under pressure; passive leaders may issue an unspoken directive to do what it takes to get the work accomplished, even if that means taking ethical shortcuts. Yet it’s the job of a leader to ensure ethics compliance—this is not a task that should be shunted off to your company’s legal department. As Richard shares, you, the leader, are a role model: it’s critical that you model ethical behavior and demand it of your teams.
Here are four steps Richard shares to help you and your team avoid the trap of passive leadership.
Leaders need to plan for contingencies at the start of a project. Richard states that by spending planning time upfront, leaders will find weak spots in the team’s processes. Richard says that at the beginning of the planning cycle, leaders should share with their teams that it’s essential to succeed, but the success imperative is not license to take a short cut along the way.
There will always be risks associated with buying or selling anything. Now more than ever, as companies look to grow their businesses, the temptation for quick growth at the expense of ethics and integrity is especially present. Richard shares that the key to resolving this tension is to acknowledge competing objectives and to be transparent with your planning goals. Communicate ethics directives clearly to your teams.
Richard points out that silence from your teams doesn’t mean that no one is struggling. If your organization isn’t calling you, then it’s crucial that you touch base with them. No news doesn’t always mean good news. Ensure that you are supporting your teams so that your direct reports have someone with whom they can share their nuanced concerns.
Richard provides a script for leaders to share with their teams: “We appreciate that goals can appear to conflict with what can realistically be accomplished. We want to hear from you so that we can help you. We don’t want you to be struggling, so please pick up the phone and call us. We will be calling and checking in on you as well.”
Richard offers this advice: “The only problems that we can’t help you with are the ones you are keeping to yourselves.” It’s critical that you set up a structure in which your team can unpack problems together. Richard pushes teams to pause when dealing with problems, so no one feels overwhelmed and thinks they have to sacrifice integrity for quick success. This culture must be created at the top, by the leader—you. Richard encouraged leaders to take ownership of their teams with respects to planning, forecasting, and addressing risks in the financial plan.
Richard shares that even if leaders have the best intentions, their direction will not be received immediately. Expect to communicate your intentions and directives via multiple messaging channels. Leaders must create a culture of give and take, of listening as much (or more) than they talk. Richard offers that leaders should get to know their teams by asking them plenty of questions. Create a positive and sustainable environment where you can create a strong feedback loop. The most important focus for you as a leader is to listen to your team’s challenges. Your team is on the front lines; they can help you manage your own expectations in regard to your need for rapid growth and delivery.
There is always a need for speed. Everything needs to be done—now. Of course, there are times when speed is crucial. However, speed and success isn’t a zero-sum game. Richard advises that leaders should challenge themselves on the need for speed. You can hit the “pause button,” Richard says, by having tough conversations when setting up goals and deliverables. Have your team pressure test and challenge you to balance objective setting, risks, financial goals, and values.
While it’s essential to meet your financial goals, you can’t sit by passively while your team makes decisions without you. By leveraging the four factors of planning, communicating, listening, and speed, you will help ensure that you are meeting financial goals while mitigating risk and achieving sustainable and ethical business growth.
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