On The Catwalk

Frequently, leaders are disappointed with their team’s behavior, the developing culture, and collective habits. They don’t get why people come to meetings unprepared, or think that talking aggressively is acceptable. As someone who often sits as a fly in the room (or Zoom) to watch firsthand how companies operate, I often see a common source: the leaders themselves.

It might sound like a cliché, but it’s true: your organization around you acts like a sponge. They observe what you do and learn. Like it or not, you are continuously modeling your culture. That’s not to say that everything is entirely your fault: if someone yells in a meeting that doesn’t mean you have yelled at one before. We know that a company’s culture boundaries are mostly flexible—and so the bar you set for yourself should be even higher than everyone else’s.

Culture Via Ceremonies

Whenever the team has a “ceremony”—a daily meeting, weekly happy hour, retrospective, whatever—leaders are setting the tone. Be there on time and be prepared. Don’t waste people’s time and don’t agree for others to do it.

Do you hate it when engineers are typing away during a meeting? Don’t tolerate it. Furthermore, in the current Zoom-obsessed world, I urge you to set ground rules. For example, people should have their video cameras turned on by default. Otherwise, it feels like talking into the void, and many end up switching to their IDE. And, again, this starts with you and your leaders.

Someone says your name to direct a question at you. Is your response always “sorry, was just checking something, can you repeat?” If so, you’re effectively telling everyone else that the meeting is not important enough to warrant your full attention.

Accountability as a Value

It is typical to see teams where deadlines are regularly missed, promises are forgotten, and change initiatives seem to stop as fast as they were started. After holding so many interviews to hear what people are saying, employees attribute this to fatigue time and again.

They witness leadership dropping the ball on issues, not following through on promises, and changing their mind repeatedly. That in turn taught the organization that accountability is just the kind of word that you see on motivational posters, as opposed to something that’s valued.

I know that it can be demanding, but for executives the truth is that they are acting as a role model whether they like it or not. And so, I advise you to measure your entire leadership team on their accountability, and treat it as one of your core values. Create a team that people would feel proud to be part of.