The Leadership Barometer

Change in the weather barometer macro detail.Merriam-Webster defines a barometer as 1) an instrument that is used to measure air pressure and predict changes in the weather, or 2) something that is used to indicate or predict something.

Like it or not, if you are in a leadership position, you will have staff members “checking your readings” as a barometer of what they can expect within the organization. Seriously. It is amazing how many people will notice if there is a change in your typical pattern of behavior (more/less meetings with leadership team, upbeat/looking stressed, out and about/holed up in your office . . . you get the picture), and their anxiety may go up or down depending on what they see.

This realization is rather disconcerting at first. After all, the fact that you may be dealing with some high-stress issues doesn’t necessarily mean the sky is falling; and even the most upbeat among us occasionally have bad days — sometimes several in a row — that may have nothing to do with the organization. What’s a leader supposed to do?

Well first, for those of you thinking “Don’t my staff have enough to do without keeping an eye on me?” . . . probably . . . but can you honestly say that you have never gauged someone’s mood by paying attention to how they entered a room? It’s instinctual. So being aggravated that people are monitoring your behavior is a waste of time. The real challenge is what are you going to do about it? It doesn’t feel authentic to “fake it” and act like everything is goodness and sunshine all the time. People know better, and over time will begin to either not trust you or think you are totally disconnected from the reality they experience. On the other hand, openly conveying every frustration or anxiety, “ain’t it awful” style, doesn’t seem like a good plan either.

So what is the best option? I recommend transparency with a positive long view. My staff knows I am going to share the good the bad and the ugly — in context with my absolute confidence in this organization. “Yes, the bureaucratic wrangling we are experiencing right now is ridiculous, and it’s not likely to get better for a while, AND, we will do what we need to do to move past this and carry out our mission.” Jim Collins called this the Stockdale Paradox in the book Good to Great, describing the ability to have unwavering faith while facing the brutal facts. “These are difficult times, no doubt about it. We have made it through a lot of challenges before, and I am confident we will again,” — honest, without being fatalistic.

That is a barometer people can trust. It indicates there are challenges, and predicts the organization will prevail. It gives your staff confidence to stick with you through the storms to reach the sun on the other side.

What is your barometer forecasting?