What You Do Vs. How You Do It: The Unwritten Rules

There's a stumbling block that trips up all too many promising leaders, especially new leaders. But it's something that your managers are unlikely to talk with you about. In today's installment of my series on the unwritten rules of business, I want to shine some light on an issue that urgently needs to be on your radar if you are a leader now or you aspire to lead in the future.

It's Not Just About Results Anymore

The roots of this issue go back to how most organizations choose leaders in the first place. Typically, outstanding individual contributors are identified as having leadership potential and encouraged to move into management roles. As they become managers, they tend to assume that the habits and behaviors that have served them well so far will continue to help them succeed. Now, as you probably know, I'm a strong believer in knowing your strengths so that can you leverage them more powerfully. But when it comes to transitioning into leadership, things get a little more complicated.

As an individual contributor, you were mostly judged on your results. You knew how to get things done and do them well. As a leader, results are still important, of course. But you're also now being evaluated on how you get those results. In other words, the leaders above you aren't just looking at what you accomplish. They also care about the experiences of those who worked with you to accomplish those results. They are paying attention to how you impact other people.


Feedback Falls Short

Some leaders, though, fail to expand their focus to include results and relationships. They keep their heads so far down in their work that they don't pay much attention to how they affect others. Working with such managers, team members don't feel valued or even heard.

When this is going on, senior leaders notice. Unfortunately, however, they often fail to give feedback on how the manager interacts with others because they're still creating high-quality results. Or if senior leaders are giving feedback, it doesn't convey the seriousness of the problem. "I'm still getting raises and bonuses," the manager might think. "So what they're talking about doesn't sound like that big of a deal."

Because they don't correct the problem early, things only get worse. You've probably heard the saying that people don't leave companies, they leave managers. And managers who don't value relationships are the very ones that cause employees to leave. When retention becomes a problem, then senior leaders step up their feedback, which often blindsides the manager. It's a lose-lose situation. Because of the manager, team members are disengaged or even leaving the company. And the manager's once-promising career is at risk of being derailed by problems that should have been addressed much sooner.

How Are You Showing That You Care?

So what can you do as a leader or aspiring leader to avoid this scenario? No matter what messages you get from your own managers, always realize that your success hinges on both your results and your relationships. It's not just about what you deliver. How you deliver it is also important.

With that in mind, here are a few prompts to help you notice how you're doing with building relationships:

  • When you're leading a meeting, do you launch into your agenda immediately or allow for some socializing?

  • Are you all shop talk, all the time — even when you run into someone in the hallway?

  • How present are you with others? Do you give them your full attention or are you thinking about everything else you need to be doing?

  • How often do make others feel included by asking for their questions and input?

  • How many colleagues who have worked on projects with you before want to work with you again?

  • How much do you micromanage vs. empower others? Do you prioritize developing and teaching, or just getting the work done? Does your perfectionism stop you from delegating?

  • How much of yourself do you show to other people?

If you're realizing that you might be emphasizing results at the expense of relationships, here's a simple exercise to try this week. Before your interactions with others, take a moment to think about how you can convey that you care about them and not just the work you are doing together. The gift of your attention is invaluable.

For more advice on this topic, pick up a copy of "Building a Strong Team," part of my Leadership EDGE Series℠. And if you'd like to read more on the unwritten rules of work, check out the past installments in this series:

If you have questions about other unwritten rules at work, please don't hesitate to drop me a note. I may answer your question in an upcoming blog article.