John Ainley: Your organisation is a shadow of you

‘You must be the change you want to see in the world’ said Gandhi and it’s a message that many CEOs should consider when they think about how their own organisations effectively become shadows of themselves. What that means is a leader is viewed as the embodiment of a company’s values and what he or she says or does – how they behave – will be reflected by employees throughout their business.

As a consequence, it is critical that leaders think carefully about how they are perceived. It’s all very well exhorting employees to behave or act differently, but change will only happen if they see you behaving and acting in line with the values you’re trying to encourage and embed.

Set an example

Want to encourage a better work life balance in your organisation? Then leave the office regularly at 5.30pm and don’t send emails to your employees at 4am. Cutting expenses? Then take public transport or travel economy. If your strategy demands more focus on a particular part of the business, then you should spend more of your own time on that area. If you want the organisation to be more agile, then you must be more nimble in your decision making. If you want people to challenge you, then they must have the mechanism to let them do so and you must be willing to accept challenge and respond to it well.

How though can a leader be sure they are displaying those behaviours and values that they want to see replicated throughout the business?

It takes great self awareness, feedback and discipline. Leaders have busy, packed agendas and can find it hard to find the time but you have to really pay attention and work hard at the way you conduct yourself. You can’t afford to be inauthentic and try to distort your personality to be something that you’re not, but you can be more skilful at personally ‘living’ the strategy in a way that supports the culture of the organisation you’re trying to grow.

Your performance must be measured

Above all, it is critical that you have a mechanism of ensuring that you receive objective, third party feedback about your performance – and the behavioural standards you’re setting – from someone who understands you as an individual but also ‘gets’ the strategy and context of the business that you lead. Only then will you know whether your shadow reflects the behaviours and values that you want to see across the business.