Transforming Hidden Talents into High Performance


Mistakes Even Good Leaders Can Make

Mistakes Even Good Leaders Can Make

Chris Edmonds @scedmonds recently blogged on the drivers of leader behaviours such as role models set by previous bosses, organizational culture, and individual social style. He argues that these drivers can lead to mistakes that leaders make, resulting in an erosion of trust; an I win–You lose attitude; and less discretionary energy directed at goals and tasks. I agree with Chris but I see this through a slightly different lens.

Let?s reframe these points into a single driver category–culture. Every group we belong to has its own way of doing things–a set of behavioural and procedural rules and expectations?this is the culture. There are regional, generational, ethnic, education, disciplinary and other cultures?defining norms learned from being part of the group–and that are distinct from others. These norms are passed on from generation to generation and tend to be embedded in how we do things. We know it?s the way things are done, but may not remember having learned it. Yet we tend to expect others to follow the same rules and have the same expectations–without giving it a thought.

The rules work as long as nothing changes?which may explain why we resist change! When a company goes global, or customer and labour force demographics change significantly, or technologies advance, suddenly old ways don?t work so well. Have you noticed that employees don?t always behave the way you expect them to? Have you experienced a ?What????? reaction to an interaction with an employee from a different generation or a different country? They are operating under a different set of cultural norms than you are, and neither of you is aware of it.

Let’s take Chris? drivers and effects and look at them through the lens of cultural difference.

Drivers: Culture drives many behaviours, and if we understand these drivers, we are better prepared.

  1. Manager behaviours have been learned, reinforced, and rewarded (they?re managers after all). Old bosses pass down ?rules? to the next generation–including valuable tacit knowledge that has served the industry and organization so well.
  2. Organizational culture is a powerful influence–and is a set of norms and expectations embodied in its mission and vision statements, policies, and procedures. Managers are both empowered and limited by the organization?s culture, which changes slowly. But when individuals adapt, it affects the organization’s culture.
  3. Individual manager cultural norms and expectations. We all learn and adapt our own experiences, personality, and preferences to the norms we encounter.


?If you always do what you?ve always done, you will always get what you always got.? Henry Ford (1863-1947), American founder of the Ford Motor Company. This famous quote is all about looking at the world through a new lens to redefine how we do things and the outcomes we aspire to. The way we work doesn?t work any more. Let?s stop putting energy into trying to reinforce and protect old ways–every minute we spend on that is a minute we are not spending getting things done. As Chris says, there’s less getting done. Trust gets eroded. It creates and US vs. THEM environment.

How do you build trust with your employees? Is trust building an end as well as a means? For example, do you recognize work well done? How do you do it? A public announcement or have a private chat with the employee? Did you know that your choice could affect the trust the employee has in you? Employees from North America tend to prefer public recognition, so we establish all sorts of public award mechanisms. Employees from some cultures may be very uncomfortable with public attention to their work. Why not have a private chat first, explain the purpose of an announcement, and ask what they’d prefer? There are many examples of practices meant to build trust that have the opposite effect. Following North American leadership norms may erode trust with employees from different cultures. So check with your own expectations and norms–ask yourself how the actions you take reflect your culture and start by asking your employees privately if your planned actions will work for them.

Building Trust for Better Outcomes

This approach creates a win-win situation and eradicates any tendency towards I win–you lose, and it establishes a perception of fairness. The manager?s goal is trust. The employee wants and needs to trust their manager. The private chat demonstrates that the goal is (in the example above) to recognize and reward the employee?s work, and trust rises. Look at all the time that saves in dealing with rebuilding trust erosion and defending yourself against the perception of unfairness. And imagine how much more time is spent for you and your employees on goals and tasks.

For more information on cultural norms and expectations in different workplace situations, and to experience an immersive simulated learning environment, try TalentNet (it’s fun!)

Register to establish a login, and play through a learning experience as a manager leading a multicultural team–you’ll discover more about employee engagement and performance management. It’s free and you can play it, get feedback after every mission, and play as many times as you like. If you prefer to play in French, there’s a French version of TalentNet too! It’s a separate account so to use both requires two separate registrations. You can use the same username and password.

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