Leaders, Your Rocks Roll Downhill

Posted 05.07.2019

As I’ve written here before, one of my favorite games to play with high potential managers and executives is called, “What’s on Your T-Shirt?” The way it works is the leaders in my programs or workshops review the highest and lowest results they’ve scored on behaviors in The Next Level 360 or self-assessment. To reduce the stress that naturally comes with that conversation, I ask them to pair up and review the overall results for the group first. The output from their review is a couple of paired phrases that could fit on the front and back of a T-shirt.  The front, based on the high-scoring behaviors, describes what that group of leaders should feel good about and the back, based on the lowest scores, what they should take a look at if they want to do better. I position it as a “no-fabulous-prizes” competition for the team that comes up with the T-shirt slogans that generate the most laughs in the room. The winners are always the ones where everyone else feels like they resemble that remark.

I’ve been running the T-shirt game for years and realized a good while ago that the underlying themes really don’t change that much. When the leaders look at their results, they recognize that their high-rated behaviors are all about getting stuff done and their low-rated behaviors are about not having enough space, bandwidth or connection with others to even determine what needs to be done. I’ve heard a couple of T-shirt slogan pairs lately that got a lot of laughs of recognition in the room and did a great job of summing up what I hear all the time. Here are the latest winners:

  • Teamwork makes the dreamwork; but to dream you’ve got to sleep.
  • We get it done; but can’t stop doing it.

The recurring theme in the T-shirt game is that, on paper at least, most leaders are pretty good at managing others and aren’t that good at managing themselves. In the long-run, though, that poor self-management leads to poor management of others. If you’re in a leadership role, what’s on your t-shirt doesn’t just have an impact on you, it affects the entire organization.

When you’re a designated leader, your rocks roll downhill. If you’re generating stress, your people are absorbing it and dealing with it. If you’re burned out, stressed out and frantic from not getting enough sleep, not exercising and not getting enough time away from work, then your team or organization is going to reflect that.

The impacts are broader than work really. If you’re taking your stress home with you, your people probably are too. From there, your rocks keep on rolling with impacts on the health of your people and their families and the quality of their connections to the broader community.

Wondering if any of that applies to you and your team? An easy way to check is to step back and look at how the people in your team or organization are operating. If they’re making poor decisions and running around like their hair is on fire, in all likelihood that’s on you and the rest of the leadership team. Your people are just reflecting back what they’re seeing from you.

The good news, though, is that the opposite is also true. If you’re leading and living at your best, it’s much more likely that your people will too. You really can’t overestimate your impact as a leader.

So, with all of that in mind, I’ll wrap up with two questions. What’s on your t-shirt? And, if you’re not happy with the back of the shirt, what are you going to do about it?

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