Leadership: Conscious or Unconscious?

26 June 2012

Providing leadership coaching and consulting in high-risk industries – specifically the oil and gas and mining industries – appears to be a large and abstract topic. But why? Based on multiple experiences, good leadership starts with asking ourselves three simple questions (and of course), acting on each of them appropriately:

  1. What behaviors am I rewarding?
  2. What behaviors am I tolerating?
  3. What behaviors am I demonstrating?

When it comes to rewarding behaviors, leaders often reward the wrong behaviors, without consciously realizing it.  For example, consider the following scenario:

A member of an operations team delivers customer products in record time due to speeding, which allows him to exceed his projected targets, which then causes the company to generate additional revenue which results in the employee being publicly recognized, in addition to, receiving a handsome financial bonus - this chain of events, while it appears logical, sends the wrong message.

Although this employee increased the company’s revenue, he violated the company’s safety vision of ‘always practicing safe driving’ which includes driving within the allocated speed limit.  His fellow employees witnessed him speeding and realized he was able to deliver products in record time due to the speeding.

As a leader, ask yourself, if I reward this behavior, what am I demonstrating to other people in the organization? If the answer to this question is, “We’re under great pressure to produce in this day and time; I have to overlook the occasional speeding and – after all – who doesn’t speed once and awhile?”  This single act may completely change the way every person in the organization decides to behave when it comes to driving.  Unfortunately, most leaders don’t consciously ask themselves this type of question.

As a result of the employee’s public recognition and financial bonus, many employees began to feel the pressure to increase the number of deliveries by speeding.  As a result, overall production is increased and additional financial bonuses are in everyone’s pockets.  How long with tolerating this behavior will last? It could last forever, but most likely…not. 

A leader who rewards or tolerates the wrong behavior – especially behaviors that do not align with the company’s values – is demonstrating these behaviors are acceptable.  These concepts can be applied to any situation and are definitely simple, but not necessarily easy to follow on a daily basis which is why good leadership requires constant and conscious considerations before acting.  

If you have any questions, please leave them below.