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The ripple effect of leaders who role model

The ripple effect of leaders who role model #ChooseToChallenge

As we’ve discussed in this series focused on this years IWD theme – not challenging is now a choice. The standard you, as a leader, walk past is the standard you accept.

In this series so far we’ve explored what gets in the way of challenging; those unwritten ground rules that drive the informal culture of what is acceptable and unacceptable in a workplace. If we really want people to Choose to Challenge they need both permission and safety.

Leaders drive culture

The most powerful message that says it’s ok to call out inappropriate comments and behaviour, is when leaders role model how to challenge respectfully. When leaders address difficult conversations in the moment, they demonstrate not only what is it possible – but what is expected in a healthy culture.

Avoiding conflict is no longer an option for leaders. Your job is to go early, be clear, use compassion and keep the tone neutral – address the behaviour or language that is not ok, without blaming or shaming the person’s identity, so that they can more readily hear the message without needing to descend into defence.

You set the tone and culture of your organisation – how you do one thing is how you do everything – so every situation becomes an opportunity to build a constructive, inclusive culture. Conversely, every missed opportunity erodes culture and leads to unsafe work environments where people will not speak up or challenge the status quo.

From bystanders to upstanders

The more leaders demonstrate the move from bystander to upstander (someone who actively challenges poor behaviour) – the more the message ripples through the organisation that this is what we value, this is the norm here and our expectation is that everyone understands that.

As this shared norm grows, the workplace becomes more respectful with less and less incidents because there are less space and acceptance of disrespectful practices.

What does a respectful workplace look like / feel like?

· Safe – it’s easy, risk free, people are able to speak up and challenge

· Clarity – we know who we are as an organisation, what we stand for, what is acceptable and what is not (we don’t tolerate politics, bullying, sexual harassment, sexism)

· Inclusive – we get that we are all in this together (we understand the collective cost of every time I am a bystander rather than an upstander)

· Aligned – our values are actively lived in our behaviours and modelled by our leaders

· Accountable – there are consequences; if the behaviour has been called out several times and there is no change, there are clear consequences that demonstrate we do not accept behaviour that undermines respect in our organisation

Everyone is accountable for respectful behaviour

Most people know what the right thing to do is when someone else behaves badly, but whether they do it or not depends on the culture, environment and a complex interaction of identity, beliefs, the need to belong and the unwritten ground rules.

When leaders role model how to challenge and engage their people in creating a safe, respectful workplace culture, they tap into the potential of the collective.

The message is – in service of creating the culture where everyone feels respected, we all actively participate in choosing to challenge unacceptable behaviour.

When this is the norm, not challenging is no longer an option.

Create the environment to challenge

  1. Create a culture where it is safe (physically, emotionally and mentally) to call out inappropriate behaviour and comments
  2. Catch it small and early – it’s much easier when you speak up early on the small items that feel lower risk
  3. Make it about the behaviour not the person (hold the judgement focus on the outcome)
  4. Stay calm and neutral – avoid blaming or shaming the person
  5. Do it with purpose – in service of a respectful workplace (don’t do it to be right or assert your moral superiority)

The way in which you challenge, and how you’re being when you challenge is as important as what you say. When we are in judgement (self-righteous), the other person naturally becomes defensive or protective (their character is being questioned) – however, when we deliver a message that points out the behaviour with a neutral tone, it invites the person to question their approach and consider a different perspective.

In honour of IWD 2021, it’s time to Get Loud Australia & #ChooseToChallenge!