Should your employees follow you?

One of Sir Richard Branson’s quotes is ‘Train your employees well enough that they could leave. Then treat them well enough that they want to stay’.  Why is it that employees want to leave an organisation? If you know why they leave then you can recognise what will make your employees follow you and stay. If you practice unethical leadership, the reason they leave is usually you!

Unethical leadership

I have recently spoken to a number of people looking to leave their job.  There is a consistent theme.  Poor and/or unethical leadership. This really shouldn’t surprise me, as the Chartered Management Institute published a research document, ‘Managers and the Moral Maze’.  This showed that 80% of workers do not think their managers set a good example. 60% claim to have witnessed colleagues behaving unethically. The vast majority of those being unethical were managers.

Examples of unethical leadership

  • a company has a strict dress code, requiring their male employees to wear plain suits, plain shirts and plain ties. Women employees must be appropriately dressed for business. Every Friday the CEO comes dressed in jeans, motorcycle boots and a leather jacket.
  • another public sector organisation has put severe restrictions on travel.  This rule is only to be standard rail tickets and economy air-fares. Except for two Directors who found the necessity to fly first-class to a meeting in the middle-east, having travelled to the airport in a private-hire car.

Treat others as you would like to be treated

It is disconcerting to see examples of unethical leadership.  There is no way employees follow when such practices are in evidence.   One of my mother’s favourite sayings springs to mind here. ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated.’ I often wonder why some senior leaders cannot see why their unethical leadership behaviour has an adverse effect on both their organisation and their employees.   Most good leaders know that employees will not believe what they tell them.  They will believe in what they do and how they behave.

Leadership as a profession

Leadership should be recognised as a profession in its own right. There are plenty of leaders, many in senior positions, whose reputation and position have been built on quantitative performance results. These are usually financial.  These results do not give consideration to the ‘collateral damage’ they leave in their wake. At some point, their behaviour exposes their true nature and they seem to implode.  While the organisation they work for should have relevant codes of conduct in place, then the premise that the end justifies the means often override any commitments to any code for people who have the power in the organisation.  If leadership were a profession then an ethical code would exist to call leaders to account.

Accountability for unethical leadership

By becoming a ‘profession’ leaders would have to agree on a code of ethics that also carry accountability – and it is the lack of accountability that nurtures unethical leadership. This should start with the leaders of this country; politicians. Whether it is the expenses scandal: Publicly dismissing a person in a senior role in the public sector, or wasting millions of pounds on a failed initiative; politicians appear to have no accountability. This model of leadership is then followed by corporate organisations, such as a number of banks paying significant bonuses for failed performance with no accountability.

Look in the mirror

And yet, as a senior leader, you do have accountability. You have accountability to the staff who are following your lead; who see you as their role model. Why should employees follow you? If you are concerned about the culture in your organisation and/or the attitude of your staff, I’ll give you a free tip – look in the mirror. The chances are that you will be looking at a significant factor in your organisation’s culture and you will, most definitely, be looking at the person who influences their attitude. Another free tip – ‘train your staff well enough that they could leave and then treat them well enough that they want to stay’ which starts with ethical leadership!

Alan Wingrove

I am an accredited Business and Leadership Coach and work with organisations from all 3 sectors both nationally and internationally.

With over 20 years experience in senior and executive leadership roles I have had the privilege of learning from some dreadful leaders – and the occasional really good one too!

My mission is to work with clients who want to fall in to the latter category and who can vicariously learn from the former….