embrace failure

A Leadership Call to All Kiwis

It seems no workplace in New Zealand is exempt from poor behaviour – not even our Parliament, which in the words of Jacinda Adern, should be an exemplar of a safe workplace. It is simply unacceptable for New Zealanders to continue to accept workplaces where bad behaviour from colleagues or managers is common or tolerated. To put an end to this requires leadership, not just from those with the title of leader, but from everyone.

Too often, the emphasis on turning around toxic cultures is put on rules and processes like complaints procedures and training. These are important but insufficient. Change takes cultural change.

Strong and positive cultures don’t happen by accident. They happen because of good leadership. Good leaders ensure there are clear expectations and standards for how people treat each other at work, and these are made explicit in clear values.

Good leaders model the values. Good leaders are always respectful, while also being straight up. Good leaders set the tone. Good leaders are quick to let people know when they are behaving in ways that don’t square with the values.

Jeremy Bullmore, a writer on marketing, once said, “People build brands the way birds build nests, from the scraps and straws they chance upon.”  We believe cultures are similar, and the scraps and straws that form a culture are the everyday actions and conversations that people see and hear around their workplace.  In particular, the words and actions that leaders both choose and tolerate.

So, if you are in a leadership position, what are you doing to make it explicit as to how people should and should not be treated? Perhaps an even more powerful question is, ‘What are you not doing?’ What behaviour and what conversations are you condoning by your silence?

But it is too easy to blame leaders. The leadership challenge is not just for people with the title “leader”. To create workplaces that are free from bad behaviour requires us to all stop colluding by tolerating bad behaviour when we see it. If we don’t speak up, how can we expect the discriminated, the harassed or the bullied to?