… even if we’ve always done it that way

We Texans were a little bit whiney last month during SNOWVID-21, but most of us are better now that we’re back to the old normal of the global pandemic. There are still some recovery efforts and healing going on that are teaching lessons “we” thought we’d already known. That’s the royal “we” because it’s less damning than saying I.

Like untold numbers of Texans, my wife slipped on the ice last month and broke a bone. It’s the shoulder attached to her dominant hand rendering her mostly unable to fend for herself for the last few weeks. I thought the occasional use of humor would take the edge off of her frustration; apparently, I used the phrase peeling her grapes and feeding her bon bons one too many times.

How often do we use humor around the workplace that not everyone thinks is funny? Hey, just because they don’t have a sense of humor doesn’t mean I’m not funny, right? In last month’s At C-Level, Kevin Berchelman wrote about being more aware as senior leaders of how their “suggestions” impact others. Same goes for humor… and any other little comments the boss makes. We can never forget as leaders everything we say or do is being paid attention to.

I can hear a lot of eye rolling out there accompanied by disappointment that I’m getting all politically correct. I’m not. My point is a leader’s style may have been accepted for years, and people say, “Well, that’s just Kevin being Kevin.” But just because what’s said and done has been accepted by others, it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

When it comes to humor, no one likes to be made fun of, and whether or not others think it’s mean spirited they’ll certainly be on guard for when it’s their time to be the butt of the joke. I’m not advocating a humor-free workplace; I’m saying that humor – and anything we think – will probably better received if we don’t express it the very second we think it.

Enough about humor. Another example: someone leaves a meeting to retrieve something he forgot at his desk. As he leaves, the boss makes a comment that is interpreted as less than complementary. The boss doesn’t think anything about it because it’s always been accepted, but the result is a trust killer: everyone else around the table now knows that the boss talks about them behind their backs. Not acceptable.

A board president makes an innocent comment to a new board member in response to his suggestion: “That’s not really the way we do it here.” The comment is accepted by the other board members, but the president just proved that she’s not interested in diverse thought and confirmed what the new member already anxiously thought… he’s an outsider. Accepted but not acceptable.

We roll our eyes in response to a suggestion. We just devalued that person’s experience and professionalism in front of others (at least that’s the perception). Public humiliation is always a morale booster.

We nonchalantly comment about someone’s clothing. Okay, Judgey McJudgeface, we just made others self-conscious as they assume we’re judging the way they dress. We just showed our genuine selves to them. Again, accepted behavior for years but not acceptable for a leader trying to build team cohesiveness and trust.

These are not big things to us, and we’re usually not even aware we’re doing something unacceptable. And because we’ve long accepted that behavior from others – including from those who lead us – we accept if from ourselves. It’s become a bad habit that we don’t know we should break.

And like most bad habits, breaking them isn’t difficult (just stop it!), but it’s not easy either. It requires us to consider others before we let that thought whirling around in our head like a centrifuge come flying out of our mouth.

As leaders, our small but unacceptable words and deeds are usually – and unfortunately – accepted by others. But they certainly shouldn’t be by us.

We have to be intentional about demonstrating acceptable behavior. After all, leading by example isn’t an option.

How about you? Acceptable or just accepted?

It’s up to you, leaders.

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