Q: Team members have told me they are uncomfortable with the meetings I run because they feel that I don’t respect their input, that I tend to wave them off in favor of my own ideas. My partner expects me to change my style so we can get the most from our people. I don’t think this is an ethical issue, but my partner disagrees. She says I’m getting pushier and shutting people down more and more, and that I don’t understand the effect I’m having on morale.
A: You are lucky to have colleagues who care enough to speak up and help you see that words and tone of voice can cause harm.
Disrespect is an ethical issue. It kills trust and well-being, not to mention inspiration. No wonder your partner is concerned; your current style shuts down the people you should depend on for creative ideas and innovative approaches.
Time to regroup and circle back, both to thank the team members who had the courage to speak up and to ask them for more details. It can be hard to listen to such comments without justifying or defending your intentions. But when you understand what people have been hearing in your tone and language—and how it made them feel—you may see that your overdrive harms you as well as them. Putting the pedal to the floor escalates your impatience and stress, and undercuts your capacity to relate to others. It compromises the team’s motivation and tramples the opportunity for you to be a leader who brings out the best in people.
Talk with your partner about what’s going on inside your head. Find out what she thinks is going on and discuss ways you can change things up (for the better of the company, your team and yourself). Seek out the people who were casualties of your meeting style and apologize. Next time the group comes together, encourage suggestions for new and better ways to create an environment where ideas can flourish and your team feels valued and supported in doing their best work.
Q: We’ve been having a great year, getting nearly all the clients we’ve targeted. As a result, we’re hiring and planning to nearly double our staff. My concern is how to quickly create a sense of belonging for newcomers. We don’t have time or money to have an offsite retreat, but I want those joining us to get up to speed on our values and how we do things. What do you suggest?
A: Your team is the key to figuring all this out. They’re the ones who know the stories that detail your company’s cultural DNA and the elements that fuel the company’s (and their) success. Chances are you were all too busy making the right things happen to stop and share those stories. You might not have even realized you had stories to tell.
This would be a great time to ask each team member to share a couple of stories about the company. Invite an intern or friend of the firm to collect the stories by email or recorded interviews (on the phone or in person). Ask employees to focus their stories on subjects that could help new employees learn about your company culture: for example, identifying and cultivating prospects, building relationships (internally and outside the company), delivering customer service, creating value, overcoming obstacles and producing outcomes that delight clients. Also, ask them to share details of the values or aspects of the culture that most helped them succeed in their jobs and feel like part of the firm.
Once you’ve reviewed the collection—keeping in mind that it’s a work in progress—add a cover letter that details the contents, what you learned from reading it and what you hope new recruits will get from the tales. Consider explaining how the firm’s values came about and why they are important, and maybe tell a story of your own. Give a copy of the collection to new employees at their first team meeting and tell them that you look forward to hearing the stories of success they will soon be able to tell. (While you’re at it, pass a copy to all employees. It’s a good way to reinforce the company culture.)
Meanwhile, encourage your current team to take opportunities to mentor and be inclusive so new people don’t feel lost. Creating a feeling of belonging sets everyone up for success by establishing expectations in advance, detailing how things are done and making it clear that a team is behind them.
Do you have an ethical dilemma? Write to The Ethics Coach at firstname.lastname@example.org.