People have to know what the unacceptable behaviors are.
In the television series “In Living Color”, there was a re-occurring character named “Homie the clown.” When people did or said something that highly offended him, Homey would hit them over the head and say “Homie Don’t Play That!” As a leader, it is critical that your team knows what your top unacceptable, intolerable behaviors are. Specifically, the behaviors that will cause the person to immediately be sent to the penalty box, thrown out the game, or kicked off the team. Everyone has to know because it is the consequences of unacceptable behaviors that shape and sustain a culture and an organization. As a result, it’s a leader’s responsibility to call out and immediately address bad behavior. If he doesn’t, it will spread.
Sadly, it seems like a week doesn’t go by without reading about a company or organization in which sexual harassment, discrimination, lying, cheating or some other unacceptable behavior has been taking place for a long time. Interestingly, almost without exception, all of the organizations had “Core Values” posted on walls and listed on their websites. People within the organization knew that it wasn’t practicing what it preached.
When it came to my teams, everyone knew what my top unacceptable behaviors were:
1. Not shooting straight. (i.e., sugar-coating or downplaying what happened.)
2. Not acting with a sense of urgency when something bad happened. (i.e., assuming
someone else would take care of it without first making sure that is the case.)
3. Not taking accountability for your actions, or lack thereof. (i.e., finger-pointing and
rationalizing bad behavior.)
People knew my top unacceptable behaviors because they would see a different side of me in those situations. To that point, it is OK to lose your cool when unacceptable behavior occurs. It lets people know how important it is to you. Now you can’t be bopping people on the head like Homie the clown, but you can let them know in very clear terms and have the consequences reinforce your words.
It takes courage to call out unacceptable behavior because in a lot of situations it is being done by some very powerful or popular people within the organization. When called out, they will resort to ad hominem attacks to “flip the script” and put the spotlight on you. Stand strong because the truth will eventually come out. I have examples I can use but won’t since the guilty has already been held accountable. In some cases, it required a whole lot of faith because it took a long time before the person was held accountable, but the person was.
As you continue on your leadership journey, it is critical that people know “Homie don’t play that!” If they don’t, your organization will fail because that unacceptable behavior will become part of the culture and eventually come to light.