Managers beware; somebody's watching you and it isn't just your boss. It's your employees and your peers. The need to be mindful of what you say and do in front of others goes beyond the fact that as a manager you're viewed as a role model. How you manage yourself at work tells your associates a great deal about your respect for them, or lack of it. It also establishes an underground "buzz" about you at the office which may or may not be good.
One of my best mentors directed a residence camp the first year I was a counselor there. A lesson I found applicable in every subsequent work environment was what he referred to as "Conscious Use of Self". These days that might be called "being mindful" or "self-management". At camp this meant not just avoiding bad language because the kids might imitate it. It also meant not communicating your fear when you saw a tarantula the size of your fist because it would send panic throughout your group of kids. What's this got to do with management you may ask?
I've observed many an otherwise skillful manager set aside self-management to his or her detriment. The most common mistakes occur when the person is not strictly engaged in a task e.g. when he or she is walking from one place to another, riding the elevator, or in conversation with a peer in a public area. Somehow self-awareness or awareness of others is abandoned. Consider the following real-life examples and the likely perceptions of surrounding associates:
- Two managers who are also good friends, whisper in the hallways in a manner that appears conspiratorial to others. Message: "We have secrets. We may even be talking about you. If not you, somebody else is being picked apart."
- Two managers talk at normal volume about a legitimate business issue - while they stand in between two cubicles where employees are trying to get work done. Message: "You and your work are not important enough for me to consider talking elsewhere. I'm so involved in important matters, I don't need to be sensitive to others."
- One manager talks to another about the performance of his company stock options within ear shot of employees who don't have stock options. Message: "I've got money and status. I'm important (and you're not)."
- Two managers in the 50+ age group rarely talk to the twenty-something manager outside of the meeting room. (Or two twenty-something's ignore a 50+ manager.) Message: "We have nothing in common. Get lost."
To avoid inadvertently slipping into these scenarios, keep in mind the principles your mother taught you while you're at work:
- Don't whisper in the presence of others
- Don't exclude others; be inclusive
- Don't discuss your personal money situation
- Be considerate; avoid being someone else's "noise pollution"
Ultimately, you develop a "brand" for yourself with all the accompanying characteristics. Ask yourself: how would people describe my office personality? If you use basic manners, stay considerate and unpretentious regardless of your elevated position, the office buzz will do you justice. If you stray, your reputation will as well. Though being popular is not a criterion for effectiveness and promotion, if word drifts up the food chain that you provoke negative feelings or ill will your overall potential for upward mobility could be affected.