Which would an organization rather have – a leader who enforces rules or one who builds relationships?
Much management thinking over the generations has gravitated towards one end of the spectrum or another. There have been the heavy system and rules camp, managers who pride themselves on the results-only method and that “I’m not here to make friends” mindset. Then there are others who hold to the other side of the coin, the people/relationship side. These leaders favor their people and have a general tendency to be soft on standards and build the trust and respect of their people. “Business is about relationships,” they say, and cling to treating their people like family.
As with anything, whether in exercise and diet or in leadership, moderation and balance is always the key to success. Too heavy of a drift into one direction or another can breed some significant consequences.
Take for instance the rules-heavy camp. Leaders who emphasize rules over all else fail to attach a value to their people. Many times they do not acknowledge earnest effort, but focus on any performance below a certain metric as intolerable. When it comes to behavior or HR-related issues, rules-heavy leaders force every instance into a black-and-white box, sometimes erroneously channelling people towards one side of the fence or another, thus alienating those individuals by not “seeking first to understand” the entire situation.
Don’t get me wrong – rules and standards are necessary (by nature that is the side I gravitate towards). Standards generate consistency, goals and metrics to work towards, and a means to differentiate your organization from the competition in your execution of your brand. But being too heavy-handed on rules results in this proverbial parenting saying:
“Rules without a Relationship equals Rebellion”
It can even be said further that weighing to heavily on the side of relationship can breed resentment, when a leader is fearful of enforcing rules in order to be the kinder, gentler manager. When the pendulum swings to the other side and enforcement of basic standards and conduct gives way, the leader loses much in the way of credibility
The fallacy is both the rules-without-relationship camp and the relationship-over-rules is that neither one garners the ultimate goal of RESPECT. That is what both sides of this leadership coin strive to do, and fall short of when they focus on the one-OR-the-other approach.
Rules-only tries to build respect from a top-down, authoritative position. These leaders feel that people should respect them due to such factors as position, title, directives, or their boisterous, driven personality. Employees tend to comply for a short period of time out of fear or being compelled, but will disengage eventually in the “my way or the highway” platform.
Respect garnered through a relationship-only foundation may find gaining respect quite often can miss this mark as well. When leaders choose not hurting people’s feelings, or having their own feelings hurt, by not addressing certain performance or policy standards, there breeds a discontent among the other staff members. When people see that a leader does not hold up standards, or lets policy violations get brushed aside so that the leader can be seen more as a friend than an enemy, it creates lost credibility in the eyes of the staff. Regardless of type of structure, employees look for stability within that framework; this is easily undone when the “feel good” leadership style overrides sound principles of people management. Like the rules-heavy camp, respect gained early on get’s lost when there is no confidence in the leader actually being a leader towards better performance and higher standards.
Effective leaders find a way to balance rules and standards with relationships and connections in order to achieve respect. And not merely respect for their leadership, but respect for the vision, work, and culture that the leader is spurring the team. By having a balanced approach to protocol and connection, the leader can also deepen mutual respect throughout the organization in their handling of personnel and challenging moments.People will feel that they area treated fairly when rules are enforces and when a human approach to a situation is given. The resulting connection will enable the company to achieve greater success as a result.
Balance the 3 R’s of Rules, Relationships, and Respect. Find the mix that works for your team and build a winning culture.
Great leaders that build up their people and empower them to achieve greatness differentiate themselves from those managers who are not effective in those areas.
Have you every wondered why certain leaders generate great performance and others seem to flounder or fail in their leadership influence?
It all comes down to opposite leadership styles:
Windshield Leadership vs. Rear-View Mirror Management
People that are rear-view managers tend to be reactionary. They would rather jump on an issue after it occurred. usually those issues are ones in which an error or poor performance took place, in which case the manager reprimands, then takes steps to correct the individual through steps such as remedial training or formal discipline.
Rear-view management is a reactionary style, in which the manager waits until circumstances occur to address them. This type of style looks at patchwork training to cover the holes found along the way. It also creates a fear culture as people tend to look over their shoulder at what they’ve done, awaiting the corrective instruction from their boss, or at the least worrying about if they made a mistake in their performance.
Windshield leadership is quite the opposite mindset. A windshield leader is always looking ahead and doing whatever it takes to avoid the hazards and potholes up ahead, even if they cannot see any yet.
Windshield leaders get ahead of any poor performance by setting clear expectations, building reminders of what the goal and vision are continually, and training incessantly to ensure their people are on top of their game and perform at a high level at all times.
By being a proactive leadership approach, this style of leadership coaches people up and ensures they too can foresee the hazards ahead. They are fully connected with their personnel and work with them to succeed as a team through promoting values, vision, and execution of their skills. And when a mistake is made, it is addressed with a focus on preventing it in the future. Windshield leadership takes any corrective action and frames it in the overall growth and learning trajectory of the individual and organization; “We learn from our mistakes so we can succeed better,” rather than “You messed up, here are the consequences”.
When a leader works hard to train their people to get ahead of situations and prevent errors or poor execution, that leader becomes more effective than the one who would rather wait and pounce on an issue in arrears.
To think of it another way – cars have a large windshield and a small rear-view mirror. As drivers need to check behind them once in a while, they need to focus on the road ahead to ensure they can successfully get where they are going. Great leaders know the wisdom of focusing on the present and future and spending very little time on the recent past.
Get ahead of challenges before they occur. Train, ready, and elevate your people to perform and prepare for the next goal. Set your sights ahead and drive your organization forward.
The recent news of the Wells Fargo scandal of employees who opened various credit accounts without customers knowledge in order to meet assigned quotas shows a major failing in leadership in the company. Many customers had various accounts and/or lines of credit opened without their consent in order for the employees to achieve imposed-upon quotas from upper management and shareholders.
While the termination of over 5000 employees may have been warranted (after all they did choose to open these accounts unawares to their customers), that fact that it was a system-wide behavior shows the lack of ethical leadership that created this culture in the first place.
I am a huge proponent of bonuses, sales goals, and other incentives to enable people and organizations to both attain goals and be rewarded for the hard work that goes into it. But as with everything, there needs to be a balance of realistic goals and ethics to avoid the pressure and temptation for impropriety and compromising of laws. Setting incentives must be made with checks and balances built into the organization – as should everything else – in order to maintain integrity.
I my career, I’ve seen warehouses short order products to keep costs in line for the period, thus shortchanging customers who need the product. Restaurants run tight to make monthly bonus so that service times suffer. Retail locations hound patrons to open credit cards or push them to “round out” their shopping and walk away with a complete wardrobe, even in spite of their customers’ protests. Auto repair shops replace parts with the cheapest possible, or even sand and paint to make the old parts look new, just to make their quarterly costs bonus.
These are only a few examples of how the wrong leadership behind even the best of incentives can lead to unethical behavior. In most cases, and especially in Wells Fargo’s case, leadership is ultimately to blame.
In order to prevent a culture of cheating others to gain personally, here are some things to keep in mind when setting incentives for your organization:
- Why is there an incentive, what is the benefit to the organization and it’s people? Are bonus and sales growth initiatives for incremental business, or are they a reaction to declining sales (if so, then your company has bigger problems than focusing on incentives). Any sales initiative or bonus program must align with the core business model of the company, and not detract from it.
- Is the quota set by a realistic metric and data? Stretch goals are fine, but if the goals are so unrealistic (even to customers) that employees have to cheat, then there is a major problem. Is the quota a dump-and-run from upper management in order to grow on the backs of already stressed-out staff? Goals for business growth must be rooted in long-term realism and not short-term gain.
- Is the benefit to upper management more disproportionate than the employees? Do the upper management make thousands of dollars while employees make a few hundred AND have the privilege of keeping their job or not being written up?
- Can employees have a realistic chance at making this goal, or will they need to cheat or bend the rules? Are they set up to succeed at the goals, or set up to fail?
- What will your customers think of the focus on the products/services foisted upon them? Will the “hard-sell” be a put-off of your brand? Will the customer experience fall short?
- Will your customers suffer from shortcuts to make bonus, such as cutting labor or skimping on product quality? Will corners and services be cut just to make a bonus for achieving costs?
- Is your incentive plan instilling a culture of success, or fear of losing jobs? What is the resulting culture stemming from the new initiatives? Does it promote fear or teamwork? Ethical behavior or cutthroat strategies?
- Is this a knee-jerk reaction to sluggish sales performance? If the quotas established are due to sluggish sales, then there are some foundation issues to address internally first – product relevance, business model, pricing, or execution.
- What are the checks and balances to ensure culture and ethics are not compromised? How can you and your company guarantee that impropriety is curtailed? Are there checks and balances to ensure the integrity of the initiative?
- Run through the quotas – is there potential negative impact to the employees and/or customers? Is there risk, and is the ROI worth that risk? If the trajectory looks like it could have negative repurcussions, then scrap your palns and create a new method.
Company bonus goals and incentives are great ways to boost sales and reward individuals in the organization. As with any other business strategy, it must set your people up to enhance your culture, brand, and standing before any other benefit – such as sales or bonuses – are considered.
Make incentives work for, not against, your vision.