A funny thing about cognitive dissonance is that we all tend to be a lot better when it comes to spotting it in others. When someone else comments on their values or productivity habits, for example, you’ll easily quip to yourself, “Yeah, right,” if that person, in fact, doesn’t adhere to what’s stated. But when it comes to ourselves? We are blind to these or can muster piles of excuses—enough to hide the dissonance. Do you really put your money where your mouth is?
If you cannot spot areas where you’re at fault for doing this as well, here are a few common examples I’ve had to point out for clients recently, just to get your wheels turning.
”We’re a family”: No, you’re not. Companies have to let specific people go, have layoffs, and demand results. That’s not a family, and claiming to be one either sets the wrong expectations or alienates people.
”This is our priority”: Saying so without backing it with company-level time investment and focus is always easily spotted by everyone but the executive team, it seems. Like companies that go on and on about “product focus” and “customer obsession,” yet have no senior product leaders in the company. Or the company that has motivational posters about value X but completely disregards it internally, etc.
”People are our most important asset”: That’s why there’s minimal genuine coaching?
”We allow hybrid work”: Tell that to the poor people trying to see or hear who’s talking because your conference rooms are poorly set up for video calls or who constantly are left out of the loop because leadership seems to be in favor whoever is nearby.
”Here’s our handbook…”: Some managers love crafting long process manuals, guides, and readmes. I love putting things in writing (hundreds of articles published here weekly for years in a row are my evidence). However, if your handbooks describe a certain reality that’s far from how things really are, you’re writing fiction.
I’d be genuinely surprised if none of the examples rang any bells (If that’s the case, I’d love to hear about your team! Reach out). Therefore, you’re probably suffering from ongoing trust erosion. Every time teammates spot these dissonances; it slowly chafes away at your organizational trust.
It’s kind of like many have all become desensitized to how certain politicians talk and what they promise. When you learn that someone rarely walks the talk, you’re unlikely to keep listening. I don’t think that’s the sort of scenario you’d like to see happening in your company.
The Path Forward
To avoid further abrasion of trust, you have to start putting your money where your mouth is. I find that for many, this means speaking less or being less trigger-happy when it comes to promising or declaring future behavior. You should also consider taking stock of your current dissonances, preferably with some teammates who aren’t afraid of speaking up.
Especially when we seem to be entering a financial crisis that will affect the tech sector heavily, and amid the “Great Resignation,” employees will be even more alert to dissonance. If you intend to lead a remarkable team, start by treating it with the professional level that’s needed. No one achieves success solely with platitudes.
<shameless-plug> If you’re looking for more practical ways to make your team better, reach out or check out the London Leadership Leap this July: An exclusive masterclass for tech executives who want to propel themselves to newer heights, dramatically improve their performance, and start on the path to triple impact-per-engineer.
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