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Leadership Under the Microscope

By: Rick Piraino

leaders under scrutiny 


Leaders are under a microscope. Can you feel it? Employees are tuned in to their leaders. They watch trying to read their manager's mood, level of satisfaction or upset, response to how the last meeting went, etc. With partial information they often fill in the blanks with worst-case scenarios. “Did you see his eyebrow this morning? That's the way he looks when he’s not happy – pass it on.” The less direct information they get, the more vigilant and concerned they become. Nature hates a vacuum and people hate vacuums of information. Vacuums get filled with devils, not angels.


Employees also look for any inconsistencies in their boss' behavior. These are the real policies and expectations.  Actions speak louder than words and leadership behaviors set (the real) “behavioral policy.” Never mind what's written in our Standard Operating Procedures or employee manuals.


Leadership actions articulate the way things really work and will either be followed or criticized by employees.


Leaders are also scrutinized for consistent application of workplace standards among employees. Fairness is a universal issue in organizations. I think this is because people give up certain freedoms when they are at work. For example, they are required to start work at a specific time. They must follow procedures even if they think there are better ways to do things and so on. This loss of freedom in the workplace is acceptable to employees if it is required of all to the same degree - unless there is a good reason for the difference. Even then, production staff can complain about sales getting to come in with a flexible start time when theirs is fixed. If we are inconsistent in applying expectations, employees will be sure to notice, and accusations of unfairness will follow.


This scrutiny can be uncomfortable for leaders. Rather than fear it, get frustrated with it, or ignore it, let's see what we can learn from it and how to minimize it.




  1. Identify any communication blanks you may have left empty.
  2. Communicate. Fill in the information vacuum yourself before your employees do with assumptions and interpretations.
    1. Provide as much direct information as you can and help them understand the context of decisions, new directions, shifts in priorities, etc.
  3. Observe your behavior. Become increasingly aware of yourself throughout the day.
    1. Ask yourself, “Am I consistent in living as well as applying the standards that support my organization?” If the answer is “yes,” well done modeling those critical behaviors!
    2. If not, focus on changing one errant behavior at a time. Go narrow and deep rather than wide and shallow. The change will be more evident.
    3. Your consistency will increase employees' safety and their willingness to invest in the behaviors that meet standards.
  4. Ask for feedback. Ask employees for input as to how you could better support them and their success.
    1. Don't justify or explain in response to their feedback. Just say, “Thanks” and let them know what changes are within your ability to make.
    2. Then follow up – being accountable for the changes you agreed to. This will let them know you are taking their requests seriously.

The best way to get out from others putting you under the microscope is to volunteer to go there yourself.


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