Hypocritical Leadership

do-as-i-sayYou’ve made it!

You’ve been promoted and now you’ve got that nice cushy management gig with the corner office, embossed letterhead and a budget to take other big-shots out to lunch.  You vow to never forget what it’s like working in the cubicle-farm, churning out the product and getting results for the man.  You draw up a mental inventory of what you’re going to do to be a great leader.  You WANT to influence others, accomplish objectives and move your group and organization forward.  You KNOW that your actions can and will inspire others.

But as the years pass, some subtle changes in your behavior start to emerge.  And suddenly – you’ve become a ………. hypocritical leader…….

(1) A person who engages in the same behaviors he condemns others for. (2) A person who professes certain ideals, but fails to live up to them. (3) A person who holds other people to higher standards than he holds himself
(from the Urban Dictionary)

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“Not me!” you say.  “Why, I live by the same rules and set of standards that I expect my employees to live by.  I haven’t forgotten what it’s like!”

Huh.

Check it …

“We have an attendance policy and I expect you to be here on time or else I’ll have to give you a written warning.” (But I’ll stroll in whenever I feel like it)

“When you’re here at work, it’s time to work.  We can’t allow access to LinkedIn, MSNBC or gmail because you’ll just waste time and not get your job done.” (But I can play Words with Friends on my company provided iPhone all throughout the day)

“The company email system is to be used for work-related purposes only.” (But I’m going to forward the vacation pictures from my Cancun trip to all my friends and co-workers).

“My personal motto is ‘I hire the best people and get out of their way so they can do their job.” (But I’m going to need you to cc me on every e-mail and give me a written progress report of how you’ve spent your time each day).

Indeed.

You may still be the Boss…but are you still the Leader?

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this post originally ran at the HR Schoolhouse 

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Culture: A Confederacy of HR Dunces

Confederacy_of_dunces_coverOver the weekend I read another let’s-bash-HR article with the title Here’s why your human resources department hates you.” The author, Cliff Weathers, points out that HR practitioners have become “cold wardens of the workplace” and administrative bureaucrats who see themselves as “masters at the top of the corporate food chain.”

The article hits on multiple issues with modern corporate HR departments including their propensity to kill people with forms and paperwork (resulting in diminished productivity for all), the manner in which they muck up the hiring process, and how their actions ultimately de-humanize entire organizations.

Ouch.

One section stood out to me:

“One tool used by human resources professionals is the open manipulation of “workplace culture.” Employees are expected to follow cultural cues from HR departments, which model how they want employees to act to create a “positive work environment.” And you better like the culture HR creates for you, or else.”

I’m not sure we’re quite as Machiavellian as the author does; he believes this cultural manipulation is done by HR in order to ‘weed out’ (i.e. terminate) the undesirables. While getting the right people on the bus (to borrow the phrase) is important, I like to think we’re not quite so cold-blooded.

I do, however, see a lack of understanding about company culture feeding into the actions and activities of a fair number of HR professionals. Sometimes it’s a lack of clarity on the part of Janet the HR Director. Quite often it’s because the time-stretched – and misinformed CEO – tells Janet to “do something fun; we need to improve our culture.”

So Janet begins her quest to, well, OK – manipulate. ”We’ll have a scavenger hunt,” she thinks. “I’ll add a weekly dress down day and bring in donuts every Friday.” She mentally ticks off policies and activities and even employee benefits she can add…never once stopping to think if they fit the needs, wants or desires of the actual employees or culture. She forces adherence and when Bob in Accounting doesn’t participate in the Annual Halloween Costume Contest she – and the CEO – place him firmly on the “doesn’t fit in to our culture” list.

How do we fix this? It is, quite frankly an epidemic. I regularly see job postings for HR leaders that include duties such as “responsible for building a winning culture.” And ‘building’ is on the entirely opposite end of the spectrum from nurturing, ensuring alignment, and fostering the continuation of an existing culture or the migration to a desired state.

The way we change this is for HR leaders to band together and stand up to CEOs or other organizational leaders who command them (yes…command them) to “fix” the culture. The way we overhaul this is for HR professionals to educate first themselves and then their leadership teams on the real definition of company culture.

If we do that we can ALL be geniuses.

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects, Morals and Diverting

image: Louisiana State University Press

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note: even though I’ve read A Confederacy of Dunces 3 or 4 times, I intend to read it again; it’s the book chosen by the East Baton Rouge Parish Library as the spring read for our “One Book One Community” spring 2015 kick-off.  It’s one of my favorite books and truly reflects what Ellis Marsalis once said: “In New Orleans, culture is not handed down from on high; it bubbles up from the street.” 

Hmmm…culture. Again. 

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Why Does HR Always Bring the Cupcakes?

cupcakesWork is communal. Without a doubt what I miss the most of “working for the man” in a corporate setting are the everyday interactions; chatting at the coffee pot or grabbing a co-worker to head out to lunch. I miss simple conversations in the lady’s room, team birthday parties, and holiday potluck luncheons.

Huh. Most of that stuff revolves around food doesn’t it? Well hopefully not the potty breaks.

Oh how I love a gathering with cake and punch or a crock pot filled with queso dip where everyone enjoys the camaraderie. Bill from the IT Infrastructure Team doesn’t seem quite so creepy when he’s chowing down with you over a platter of cold cuts and cheese, does he?

But when the festivities have ended, who cleans up? Does Bill pitch in? What about Steve the Director of Purchasing? Does he grab Tyler the A/P Rep and get busy with a sponge and a bottle of dishwashing liquid? Or is it Gwen from Sales, Bev from Customer Service and Karen the VP of Marketing who roll up their sleeves and tackle the mess?

This recent article in the NY Times, Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee, discusses how women are often the employees who do the “office housework.” This goes well beyond packing away the office silverware after a party. As the article points out: “Someone has to take notes, serve on committees and plan meetings — and just as happens with housework at home, that someone is usually a woman. Joan C. Williams, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, finds that professional women in business, law and science are still expected to bring cupcakes, answer phones, and take notes. These activities don’t just use valuable time; they also cause women to miss opportunities. The person taking diligent notes in the meeting almost never makes the killer point.”

This, I swear to you, applies to just about everyone I know who works in human resources.

And I think it’s because, deep down, we care. We can’t distance ourselves from thinking about the work environment/culture/employment experience in all its manifestations so we end up being “mommy” – or “daddy.” Most of us grew up with a mother or some other nurturing parental figure and became quite accustomed as children to being cared for to some degree. We associate that, male or female, with a nurturing quality. So when the nice HR lady brings cupcakes or makes a point of keeping a candy dish on her desk it’s sort of paying that forward, isn’t it?

It does make me wonder about the achievement of gender equality in the workplace though; if we continue to do these things it will be expected that we continue to do them…in perpetuity.

It’s nice to want to help people; it’s a wonderful human quality and, quite frankly, society could benefit from having more people with this mindset. If you make a KILLER tiramisu and want to bring it for every damn celebration in the office, I say go for it. Cook up your award-winning brisket or make that always-requested kale-pomegranate salad for the next pot luck.

Be yourself. Rock your awesome self.

Just make sure old Bill from the IT Infrastructure team stays to help you clean up.

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