Leading by example: what you model, you get

publication date: Dec 5, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski
Whatever you may think of former CIA head David Petraeus, he was right about one thing. The behaviour you model as a leader is the behaviour you get from your followers. And if a leader's behaviour imperils an organization's mission, the leader has to go. Janet Gadeski photo

Waterstone chairman and executive search specialist Marty Parker agrees. "As leaders you are the builders of culture: you can drive it, adapt it, and shape it," he told delegates at AFP Greater Toronto Chapter's D3 conference. "You set the course. Culture comes directly out of the tone at the top." 

Culture drives profit 

Culture actually drives performance, Parker asserts. That makes it "the greatest asset an organization can have." What does that mean for nonprofits? The right culture boosts your mission effectiveness, your recruitment and retention, and the power of your brand. Assuming you have a helpful culture, you'll want to do everything you can to recruit for cultural fit, train new hires in your cultural expectations, and evaluate behaviour as part of your performance management.

Finding people who fit 

Recruiting for fit may seem difficult. How do you judge the deep-down, long-term values and actions of people you meet for a few hours at most in a situation where they're on their best behaviour? 

First of all, Parker says, be sure you know what kind of behaviour leads to success in your mission. That means knowing yourself and your colleagues, and taking the time to reflect on the values and actions that contribute to your charity's success. 

Rather than waiting until someone leaves, he advises a practice of "continuous, active recruitment." Get to know the rising stars in your sector. Find out all you can about them and make a point of meeting them in conferences, special events and the like. You'll have some people in mind already when your next vacancy occurs. 

During the interview, always focus on the candidate's behaviour in previous positions. Ask how they achieved the accomplishments they've listed in their resumes. Dummies.com has some far-from-dumb tips for such interviews. Prepare questions that begin with phrases like: 
  • "Tell me about a time when ..." 
  • "Give me an example of your skills in ..." 
  • "Describe a time when ..." 
  • "Why did you ..." 
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Back to Marty Parker's insights ... 

No matter how well a candidate performs, you'll want to dig further. As candidates mention someone during interviews, ask whether you might contact that person and what the candidates think they might say. Check references thoroughly, and go beyond the listed references to others who have been connected with the candidate. 

Pay special attention to those who are known as "judgement stars" in your field, Parker advises. They often have information and perceptions that others lack. 

Maintain emphasis on culture 

Remember that the learning curve for organizational culture can be just as long as the learning curve for the position's tasks. When Parker's company conducted research on corporate culture, just 30% of the leaders surveyed said their integration processes lasted longer than 90 days. For the primary driver of your mission success, that's not enough. 

To protect a culture that delivers success and to ensure that new hires fit in, build a performance evaluation process that emphasizes behaviours and outcomes equally. Make an effort to catch people doing the right things and celebrate their actions. 

Remember that rewards don't always have to be rooted in compensation. Loblaw's, for example, gives "ABCD Awards" to employees who go above and beyond the call of duty. Such celebrations speak volumes about what the company expects and the culture you're trying to build. 

But most of all, Parker concludes, model what you want.    

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