If there’s one consistent debate that’s held in nearly every household in America, it has to be the cellphone at the table debate raged nightly between parents, teen, and tweens. My house is no different. All three kids have phones but only the oldest, Jack, has data on his device making him the one we’re sparring with most often. The other night, it was a pretty typical Dad Win, until Jack pulled the ultimate upset. In the middle of meatloaf and being asked for the second time to put his phone away, my oldest won the debate by pointing his phone my way and saying, “well, what about this?”
What had my son uncovered? A picture. A picture of me, staring at my phone the night before. He saw it, shot it and preserved it until the exact moment that it suit his purpose. He had me and there was very little I could do except own my mistake, and remind him of who pays the bills.
I bring this up, because its an extremely common occurrence in factories, hospitals, law firms, and corporate offices across our great country. No, not necessarily cellphones at the table, but leaders who lose huge amounts of credibility with those they hope to lead because they ask people to do something that they are unwilling to do themselves. Just like Jack had caught me, managers get caught every day not following their own directives, or worse, committing all of the little sins they believe no one notices. The joke’s on them, because trust me, everyone is noticing.
I’m constantly hearing stories of managers declining PTO from staff during busy times and then going on vacation. Of directors who are the last in the morning and standing by the door come quitting time to make sure no one beats them out. Stories of would be leaders who have lost their influence because they’re on their phones during meetings, show up late, neglect support staff or are just plain rude to people they think they don’t need. These people have no credibility to lead. Their staff may do what they ask, but it’s because of the paycheck, not because of loyalty.
The fastest way for a leader to lose their constituents is to tell them to do something and then do something else. It kills their credibility to the point that it doesn’t matter how charismatic they are, or how well they articulate a vision, no one buys into it. In order to lead anyone else, we have to lead ourselves first. We have to be willing to do the things we’re demanding of others or we will quickly find no one is following.
Supper at our house is now a phone free fare. It started with me making the conscious effort to put my phone in another room when we sit down to eat because I know I can’t be trusted not to look at it. If I’m caught again, there’s no way I can expect the rest of the family to follow. I will have lost my credibility and with it, my authority to lead. Please learn from my mistake and model the behavior you want from your team because, trust me, they’re watching.