What Secret Message are Your Employees Getting from You?

Substitute cypher chart

Over the years, I have worked with many, would be, leaders that do not understand why their leadership is failing. They believe they clearly communicate what they want and expect from their team but the team fails to respond.  A common theme is these leaders tend to blame outside influences for these leadership failings.

Hidden Leadership

In Fort Morgan Colorado I worked with a Plumbing Company.  Fort Morgan is a small city, population about 11,000, about 1 hour north east of Denver. The first thing I notice walking into the office is the clutter and chaos.  The owner repeatedly tells me “I can’t hire good help because the good plumbers all want to work in Denver where they will be paid more.” During the meeting the owner walks to a credenza piled with boxes, binders, stacks of paper and the assorted detritus one finds in any office and starts rifling through it looking for something.  I suddenly realize the embryonic hoarder’s paradise I am looking at is his desk…

San Diego, California, I’m sitting in my new boss’s office.  I am meeting with the owner and President of the company.  We chat about the office staff, they are part of my responsibility.  “They’re not motivated!” He bemoans.  “They just go through the motions.”  He tells me of one employee, a woman he had recently let go, that had been spending her time trying to seduce several male employees that weren’t interested in her advancements.  Eventually he had to fire her.  He expresses shock that when he let her go said “I didn’t think you fired anyone!”…

I am the President of a home remodeling company in San Diego.  When I first met the owner, he bragged about their customer service and how this was the most important thing to him.  Now, when there were customer service issues he complains about how they make him look instead of how they affect his customers… It is September and I ask if he is planning on a holiday party? He replies “I used to have them but never once did anyone ever thank me”.    Then he would complain when his employees looked out for themselves instead of each other, the company or the customers…

The Leadership of Actions

What do all these stories have in common?  Owners that send mixed messages.  According to the work of Dr. Albert Mehrabian, 55% of all communication is non-verbal, 38% is tonality or inflection and only 7% of communication is based upon the words we speak.   The non-verbal communication is usually attributed to body language.  In our examples, however, the “non-verbal” communication extended much farther.  You actions deliver your message more powerfully than you body language.

  • The home re-modeler is a narcissist that is only concerned with himself.  As a result, he had a company where everyone covered their own back and no one worked as a team.
  • Our Fort Morgan plumber wants good, conscientious meticulous plumbers.  He probably interviewed dozens over the years but did not hire any.  Is it because they would rather commute 1 hour to Denver as he believes?  Doubtful.  They probably looked at his office and knew, at either a conscious or unconscious level, that this is not the place they want to work.
  • Our mover did not do his job, i.e. manage his team, or did it lackadaisically at best. He only wanted to do the activities he enjoyed, manage the marketing and business development.  As a result, his team members only did the parts of their job they enjoyed.

What secret message are you sending?  Are you demonstrating the behaviors you want from your team?  My father used to say, “Do as I say not as I do” He had to say that because he knew at some level that we all do what our leaders do.  Leadership starts with you.


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