He sits at his computer hour after hour, trolling connections on various social media platforms, spewing righteous indignations at the skeptic and pollyannaish posts, offering fatalistic views rooted in ignorance, lies and deceptions. Not one of his actions is positive. He chooses to condemn instead of criticizing. His belief is people are motivated wholly by self-interest, and he subscribes to the Machiavellian view, the ends justify the means. He uses evocative language to charge his audience. What he foments is destructive. He is the classic cynic, with fractured, disenfranchised followers. He is the antithesis of leadership, yet he spawns an audience.
Across the hall sits the skeptic. She avoids posting on social media except to encourage businesses to engage in best practices and connect with family and friends. She doubts and attempts to verify those critical nuggets of information she hears, sees, or reads. She challenges supposition and asks for proof. She questions origins and seeks truth. Her language and behavior are cautious yet optimistic. She thirsts for knowledge, and facts transform her skepticism into beliefs. She knows circumstances and time change people’s motivation. She finds character-driven people most appealing, nevertheless reminds others to trust and verify. She uses measured language to inspire her followers. Her actions are deliberate and justified. Her journey is what’s important. Her skepticism is healthy and enthuses the team to dig for answers. They admire her behavior and believe it to be in their best interest. She is a leader, builds rapport in the company, and continues to grow her sphere of influence.
In the corner office sits the Pollyanna. He views everything with irrepressible optimism. He’s always checking his social media posts for friend and business associate “likes.” He avoids watching disturbing news and believes things will work themselves out — no need to intervene or confront people with opposing views; there’s a natural flow we shouldn’t disturb. It’s all good. He reads what’s entertaining and makes him feel blameless and avoids anything that may upset his karma. He uses equivocal language, always hedging commitments. He’s a disengaged follower. He’ll join the group and remain until the journey gets difficult, then ditch. He avoids any leadership role and subsequently has no followers.
Your company likely has team members mirroring different versions of each of these bigger-than-life characters. You may very well exhibit, at times, behaviors aligned with the cynic, skeptic and Pollyanna. As a leader, your challenge is to drive out the cynics and inspire the Pollyanna toward a healthy level of skepticism. The starting point is values, always, values. Often missing from companies are meaningful, action-oriented values, something other than what we usually observe to be feel-good platitudes. Values serve as the moral backbone to the company and create the environment for a thriving organizational culture. Without them, the company structure is unstable and eventually fails, and the corporate culture wilts.
Brene Brown, in her book “Dare to Lead,” has a wonderful passage on values: “Our values should be crystalized in our minds, so infallible, so precise and clear and unassailable, they don’t feel like a choice, they are simply a definition of who we are in our lives.” This concept is genuine for organizations, too. The values the leader imbues and the members practice make up what we call the organization’s points of culture. I grew up in an environment steeped in values and a rock-solid culture.
The Army instilled seven, captured by this acronym LDRSHIP, and everyone from the private to the four-star general adopted, believed, recited and practiced them. Loyalty: Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit, and other soldiers. Duty: Fulfill your obligations. Respect: Treat people as they should be treated. Selfless Service: Put the nation’s welfare, the Army, and your subordinates before your own. Honor: Live up to the Army values. Integrity: Do what’s right, legally and morally. Personal Courage: Face fear, danger, or adversity.
Imagine if your company adopted, believed, recited and practiced values that resonate with the owner, employees, customers, external stakeholders and community. Team members coalescing around the meaning of the values contribute to an energetic and positive organizational culture. The cynics are driven out, and Pollyanna’s behavior changes to that of a healthy skeptic. Just envision what this would do to your company’s productivity. Do you want to build a dynamite team? Start with values and center them in your everyday work activity. This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now let’s get after it!
Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions.