For good or bad, our behavior as leaders ripples throughout an organization.
Examples of bad leadership behavior negatively affecting organizations are all too easy to cite. In the early 2000s, the criminal behavior of Enron executives caused thousands of employees to lose their jobs and led to the dissolution of Arthur Andersen, one of the country’s largest accounting firms. During the Iraq War, toxic leadership in the United States Army led to skyrocketing suicide rates among soldiers.
The fallout from poor leadership can last for years, even decades. Even if they don’t lead to bankruptcies and suicides, poor managerial behaviors reduce engagement, interfere with alignment, lower productivity, and drain human resources. Research conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies, together with Training Magazine, found that bad managers cost organizations money in at least seven ways.
The good news is that the ripple effects of positive leadership can also last for years. Consider this story from Dick Ruhe, one of my favorite business consultants:
One time, I had a half-day supervisor training in the spice fields of Gilroy, California. You’ve probably consumed the vegetables and fruit these folks harvest. You’d certainly recognize the company’s logo in your neighborhood supermarket.
The front-line people who worked the crop were happy to have a job. The training venue was on a large garlic farm. The meeting itself was in a relatively small building. The eighteen attendees sat on simple benches, and they stayed involved.
In the course of the day we discussed the qualities of good leaders. During the training, one name came up time and time again: Manny. The conversation basically became stories about Manny. He had quite a reputation. This guy seemed superhuman. But at some point, he had moved away from the company.
The conversation drifted to what the coworkers referred to as “flowers from Manny.” Somebody in the class asked if others still had their flowers. Many people said they did. Some of them even opened their lockers to show them to me.
The “flowers” were actually pink sticky notes on which Manny had simply drawn a smile as a reward for doing a good job. People in the group got emotional when they talked about Manny. I had trouble myself. I felt as though I knew him, even though we had never met.
Manny’s story underscores the importance of positive feedback in helping people reach their full potential. Catching people doing things right doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but the ripple effect of those praisings goes on and on.
While small gestures—like smiley faces on sticky notes—can have lasting positive impacts on organizations, bigger efforts can create legacies. Consider the work of Patrick McGovern, self-titled “Chief Encouragement Officer” of International Data Group and the founder of Computerworld magazine. A positive thinker who ended every meeting with his signature line “the best is yet to come,” McGovern grew his Boston-based technology media firm into a global powerhouse.
The day-to-day choices a leader makes become actions—and those actions create reactions. Think carefully about the ripples you’re sending throughout your organization and make sure their impact is positive.