I was walking along the beach with my youngest daughter this summer. We came to a narrow spot along the beach. I lead the way. We weren’t the first ones to visit the area. Geese had been there before us and had left land mines on the sand.

Me: Anne don’t step in the goose shit!

I immediately regretted the use of the word shit, poop would have been more appropriate, oh well, good thing her Mom isn’t here.

Anne: Well Dad, I am stepping in your foot prints so as long as you don’t step in any goose shit, I won’t step in any goose shit.

Ah Crap, she said “shit”, she’s probably going to repeat this word in front of her Mom!

This experience got me thinking about how we as leaders, and as parents, would do better to watch our own steps, and our mouths! Here are three ways that leaders “Step in it”

#1 – Work/Life Balance

Work-life balance is important. We encourage our teams to take vacation, to not work late and to make the most of health and wellness benefits.  We say these things but we “step in it” by:

  • sending out emails after hours
  • staying late at the office
  • coming into work sick

Our message is not consistent with our actions.

The excuses:

  • A good leader goes the extra mile
  • I need to ensure everything gets done.
  • This is only temporary – once I get through this meeting, this budget, this planning session, etc etc etc I will start taking work-life balance more seriously.

Underneath the excuses lies an emotional process, largely outside the leaders consciousness, that drives the leaders’ actions. This emotional process is rooted in anxiety driven over-functioning, rather than thoughtful responsibility.

#2 – Gossip

We all intrinsically appreciate the negative impact of gossip in the workplace, we may even get on our soap boxes and communicate a zero tolerance policy. We say these things but we “step in it” by:

  • Overtly – agreeing with a team member who complains about another team member
  • Passively – not taking a clear stance in the presence of gossip

The Excuses:

  • It’s ok to discuss facts
  • The conflict generated by addressing gossip is worse than the gossip

Underneath the excuses is nature’s way of dealing with anxiety … triangling. This process occurs whenever tension rises within a two-person relationship. One or both of the people involved in the original conflict will involve a third person. The leader who can spot this emotional process occurring is better able to avoid “stepping in it”.

#3 – Company Policy

We expect our teams to follow company policy, but how often do high ranking leaders “step in it” by:

  • not following safety policy
  • circumventing hiring policies
  • procuring goods and services outside of established protocol

The Excuses:

  • I’m too busy to follow policy
  • Policy is established to ensure consistent decision making – clearly this doesn’t apply to me – I make the rules

Underneath the excuses are anxiety driven needs to establish dominance and conceal weakness.


Watch your step!

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