Regrettably, as the Olympics loom large so does a major news story about widespread cheating. This time it is different from the Lance Armstrong type incidents of the past in that an entire country is being accused of proactively engaging in a full programme of doping. Everyone understands there is temptation to pursue less than honest means of glory, particularly with so much at stake, but athletes need to be able to look in the mirror and feel happy with the choices they’ve made in their lives.
So why do some allow the temptation to overpower them whereas others, with an equal desire for success, would be appalled that anyone would even think they weren’t clean? Whilst there will always be personal morality and greed influencing individual decisions we should not forget the culture of their environment. What is the culture that surrounds them in their endeavours and daily working life which excuses or influences their decision making? The culture in Russia appears to be that anything goes as long as it works but how did that make the clean athletes feel? The same is true in business.
The well publicised excesses of the banking industry would be a notable example from the not too distant past, but most instances of poor culture in business are not as grimly spectacular as those. Many of us will have worked in environments where we have felt uneasy about some working practices, or the fact that a “blind eye” is turned because certain high performing staff bend the rules sometimes. However, the negative effect on other staff members will almost certainly outweigh any benefits derived from their actions. This is where great leaders step in but too few actually understand what leadership is truly about. Leadership is all too often associated with a big personality, someone who speaks well in public and has the ability to engage people easily.
The type of person that everyone smiles around. This is because the leaders that are highlighted in the media often have those characteristics but it doesn’t mean that is the only way to lead. Some of the best leaders we have ever seen are quietly spoken people, but all the good leaders we’ve met understand one thing………their team is a reflection of themselves. This is one area where sport can teach business so much. An attribute often not associated with great leaders is discipline but every sports manager we’ve interviewed puts discipline at the heart of their philosophy. Sir Alex Ferguson devotes an entire chapter to it in his book “Leading”, and relates some examples of very high profile footballers who felt his wrath when they lacked the expected level of discipline. He is not alone.
All good sports managers understand that, to be great leaders, they must set a level of expectation that everyone clearly understands and then ensure that they have compliance. Business should be no different. There are many factors that influence employee behaviour and motivation, a lack of recognition is a classic mistake made by too many managers but those are topics for another time. The reason for mentioning encouragement and praise is that instilling discipline doesn’t mean that business leaders should be tyrants, far from it, but it is essential that everyone involved understands what is and isn’t acceptable.
That means when a decision has to be taken it will be taken in line with the culture of the business, whether the individual is being observed or not. When a driver is out on the road in liveried vehicles, their decisions with other road users will be influenced by what they understand the culture to be. When a salesperson is sat in front of a client and is tempted to bend the truth about their offer, whether they do or not will be influenced by the company culture. And what is company culture? It’s simply “the way we do things here” and that comes from the leaders.