Behavior Outside the Boundaries Will Cost You Dearly.

by Rob Marchalonis.

Nothing impacts an organization more than leaders and their leadership. If you are the founder, owner, or a member of senior leadership, I believe that how you lead will be the single biggest determinant of your success or failure. With this in mind, am I stating the obvious if I caution you to avoid flakey behavior? You would think so, but I see it all too often in public, in private, and in workplaces.

To me, flakey behaviors are those at or beyond the edge of relational and social decency and respect. I’m no psychologist, but I observe and work with a lot of leaders. There appears to be a range or spectrum of behavior in workplace settings that results in corresponding good or bad outcomes. Leaders who find a way to behave within the boundaries of what motivates and fulfills others generally enjoy better outcomes. Many achieve this through a style that balances both mindful and heartfelt leadership. By mindful I mean wise, innovative, organized, and disciplined. By heartfelt I mean sensitive to their relationships, communication, and team building. When leaders drift outside relational boundaries and exhibit behaviors that are perceived by others to be rude, disrespectful, selfish, erratic, unpredictable, or reckless, bad outcomes are sure to follow. In these situations, a person’s position, title, or hubris sometimes gives them a false sense of power, authority, and freedom.

Have you watched reality TV lately? One of the interesting and even educational aspects of reality television is the raw display of human behavior, interaction, leadership, …and flakiness. Certainly, the producers of these shows are on the lookout for fringe behavior and we can only imagine how much of this is provoked, edited, or even staged. Regardless, the main attraction of reality TV appears to be the view it provides of humanity—and occasionally us.

Outsiders sometimes perceive leadership positions to be privileged, lucrative, or even glamorous. In truth, many of those benefits are offset by the enormous responsibility, effort, and risk that come with the job. Being a leader is often a difficult, high-impact, high-visibility role. With that in mind, here are some simple points I share with leaders to help them lead with decency and respect, and avoid flakeyness:

• Manage your emotions.
• Minimize your judgement
• Stick to the facts.
• Focus on organizational outcomes.
• Stay positive.

Manage your emotions. We are emotional beings, but awareness and control of your emotions is a good start to better leadership. Consider how you come across to others when you are at your emotional extremes, such as when you are most displeased and angry or alternately when you are most elated and flattering. Extreme emotions wave flags of caution or danger to others, and rarely build confidence or trust. They throw eggshells in front of relationships upon which everyone must tread lightly, or avoid altogether. The more you can stay calm, level headed, and tempered emotionally, the greater your likelihood of stable and respected leadership. It may help to think of Tom Hanks in the movie Apollo 13 when, in the midst of some very serious problems, Hanks calmly declares from outer space, “Houston, we have a problem.” Hanks portrayal of astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 is a great example of how managed emotions help accomplish successful outcomes.

Minimize your judgement. In life, let alone in difficult situations, it’s easy to place cause or blame on others. How often however, are your judgements based on weak assumptions, misinformed opinions, or third-party perceptions or rumors? Judgements, while necessary in some circumstances, are fraught with risk due to lack of information, bias, or insecurity. Why not keep judgement to a minimum and make more decisions based on data, research, and first-hand discussions? Always look for the context within which decisions, behaviors, and outcomes occur. Try questioning with the phrase, “Help me understand…” Or ask a progressive series of “Why…” questions to understand what’s behind a situation or concern.

Stick to the facts. What does the data tell you about the circumstances? What evidence do you have to support your concerns, or the claims of others? Be sure to start with the facts, and then carefully proceed to uncover the unknowns. A typical example might look something like this: “I see that sales were down by 5% in the last period, even though we increased our marketing spend by 10%. What I’m unclear about is the sales mix and net profitability. Please help me understand the details.” Another example might look like, “Our attendance report shows that you were absent three days last month. Is there anything I should know about this?”

Focus on organizational outcomes. When addressing a challenging situation with an employee, I often advise leaders to shift the focus of their interaction from “about the person” to “about the organization” and its critical outcomes. One reason for this is to elevate the importance of a situation from the effect on an individual up to the greater impact on an entire organization. In situations where a “weak link” can affect the fate of an entire organization, it’s important that no single link be favored or considered outside the context of the entire organization’s outcomes and well-being. Sometimes this looks like: “Nothing personal Fred, but I need to find a way for our organization to achieve XXX by MM/YY. I’d like for you to be the one to help us accomplish this but, regardless, I’m committed to getting this done. Are you interested in being a part of this?”

Stay positive. As you work on your leadership, now with greater self-awareness of relational boundaries and being mindful of your impact, remember the power of a positive outlook. When you find yourself becoming emotional, try directing that energy toward positive thoughts and behaviors. When you are tempted to judge, why not start with positive assumptions and give people “benefit of the doubt”? When results or circumstances are “mixed”, don’t overlook the favorable results or behaviors that reflect improvements, strengths, or overall positive trends. When any one person leaves you frustrated or angered, consider the greater importance and momentum of the “whole” which is almost always greater than any one part.

Leadership is where you have the most leverage. Treat it with the respect it deserves, exhibit it with respect for others, practice it by respecting boundaries, and protect it by avoiding disrespectful flakey behaviors.

Rob Marchalonis is the founder of IncentShare and author of IncentShare: Motivate, Recruit, and Get Results with Incentives, now available at Amazon. Connect with him at