Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success
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Leaders Do Good Things When No One Is Looking

At the weekend, the Australian cricket team were caught cheating. I'm not going to go into the boring details of it all, but essentially, there's a rule that says that you can't tamper with the ball and they decided – as a team – that they would do it.

This wasn't the errant action of an individual, but of a group of players who felt that rather than compete within the rules and take the loss (if that's what it meant) they would instead look to deceive their own management team, their opponents, fans and the cricket authorities and try to gain the upper hand through unfair means.

They devised a plan that aimed to evade the TV cameras watching their every move. The plan, somewhat inevitably, failed (pause here to invoke the proverb ‘cheats never prosper’).

And everyone is to blame. However, as captain of the team, Steve Smith is wholly responsible for this sorry episode. He should have put a stop to it the minute that the conversation was started by what he calls 'the leadership group' [sic].

He should have been the voice of reason, the guiding ethical light and the person who empathised with but ultimately dismissed the idea. For his inaction, he should resign; if he doesn’t he should be sacked and sent home from South Africa. (Which as of updating this blog on Monday at 4.40pm, has yet to happen.)

Now before you stop reading and dismiss this blog as yet another story of privileged sports stars doing what they want to gain an advantage (see also sprinting, cycling and anyone who takes a dive in soccer), it's worth pointing out that this kind of thing happens all the time in the workplace, often without consequence.

Indeed the global financial crisis in 2008 was caused by high-profile executives trying to cheat the financial markets and the more recent Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal is an example of politicians trying to cheat the system too (although that's been happening since politics first became a thing).

This willingness to deceive when you don’t think anyone is looking is one of the differences between leaders and those who merely occupy leadership positions.

I've long spoken about the fact that just because you're a C-Suite member, on the 'leadership team' or a senior manager, it doesn't actually mean you're a leader. It means you have a privileged position and must act and behave accordingly.

It's been proven that those in senior positions who don't perform are those who aren't able to keep their toxic tendencies in check. Indeed one researcher found that 40% of Fortune 100 companies 'had engaged in misconduct significant enough to be reported in the national media'.

What makes you a leader are the things that you do when no-one is looking or listening, which includes your ability to change some habits and keep your toxic or unethical tendencies in check.

Want to lie in order to avoid getting found out?

Want to talk about a member of staff behind their back?

Want to circumvent a process in order to get what you want?

Want to use the 'power' of your role (or others) to get something done quicker?

Don't want to have a tough conversation or performance manage someone with poor behaviours?

Want to do 'more with less' without looking at yourself first?

If your answer is 'yes' or 'maybe' to any of these questions, then you're not a leader, regardless of the position you hold.

Leaders are people that do good things when no-one is looking. They say nice things behind people's backs. They build relationships so they can be more empathetic. They use processes and tools then seek to improve them. They confront poor behaviour or performance. They drive hard for results and they take all of the blame and none of the credit when things go badly or well. They would never lie, cheat or seek to gain advantage in unethical ways.

They enrich our lives in ways that we don't understand until they're not there anymore and we realise what we've lost.

Regardless of whether you're in a 'leadership' position or not, you can be this person and show others how the game should always be played.


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