Business in Cartoons

Everyone Watches What the Boss Watches

leadership tips

We’ve both had the chance to attend many conferences and seminars over the years and have enjoyed hearing organizations regale the audience with their successful applications of Balanced Scorecard, OKR, and numerous other execution systems. While every story is unique and stresses different aspects of the implementation, what they share in common is this: Every successful endeavor enjoyed one crucial element — the sponsorship of their senior executive in both words and actions.

The American television evangelist Joel Osteen once noted, when referring to how our actions affect our children, that “Kids are like little video cameras with legs.” They’re constantly recording what’s taking place around them, monitoring what their parents are doing, and to the best of their abilities, modeling that behavior. Of course, we’re not comparing employees to children, but the analogy holds. As members of a team, we look for signals from those whose opinion matters most when it comes to steering the ship, and in virtually all organizations that person is the chief executive officer. We’re recording their actions; how consistent they are, what they’re saying about what’s important, where our focus should be. As the title of this piece implies, everyone watches what the boss watches. Or another favorite cliché, “If it interests my boss, it fascinates me.”

With strategy execution, perhaps the single most important element of success is aligning everyone in the organization around a stated course of action. If, however, the CEO says one thing and then does another — perhaps (as the cartoon implies) enthusiastically touting the benefits of being customer focused, but then chastising any group that doesn’t hit their numbers regardless of customer satisfaction — this creates discord, confusion, and skepticism.

If you’re a CEO, or any leader for that matter, consider the following to ensure you’re saying and doing the right things.

  1. Commit to your strategy Before you begin communicating with your teams, you must do the heavy lifting of creating a strategy you believe carves the best path forward for your organization. And this means being personally involved and not ceding responsibility to, for example, an outside consultant. External expertise can help by outlining challenges and identifying opportunities, but in the end, the CEO and senior leadership must weigh the evidence and personally commit to a strategic direction. The act of personal involvement will help ensure both a depth of understanding and commitment to the strategy.
  2. Communicate ceaselessly Once you’ve put a strategic stake in the ground, communicate it frequently, whenever possible personally delivering the message to employees. The more you share, the more you internalize the message. Also, by inviting questions you galvanize your resolve and develop even deeper insights into why the chosen path was selected.
  3. Ask for feedback The simplest and best way to ensure you’re being consistent in words and actions (beyond your own observations) is to ask those you work with and rely on to share your messages to a wider audience. Is what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis consistent with what you’ve publicly shared as the organization’s direction? If not, what impact is that having on your direct reports, and other managers as they attempt to translate what they’re seeing to frontline staff hungry for a consistent message. To be frank, this will require a level of trust and transparency that does not exist in all organizations. However, given the blinders most of us wear when it comes to our actual versus desired behavior, it is vital should you hope to garner useful insights.

It’s a fact of organizational life that in both good times and bad, we look to our leaders for cues. If you’re saying one thing, but doing another that inconsistency will soon manifest in confusion, skepticism, and ultimately subpar performance.

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