Leadership is so important in defining the culture of a group. Although some attempt to deny responsibility, it’s clear that group members follow their leaders’ every decision, word, gesture, and facial expression to figure out which way the wind blows.

Leaders of dysfunctional groups have a limited number of ways to exert their influence. The dysfunction of special interest here is the breakdown in civil conversation among employees.

    1. Lack of Direction. A laissez-faire leadership style works to create independence in a group, but little else. When the group’s mission requires coordinated effort, weak leadership undermines the group’s capacity to act. When leaders fail to respond to clear signs of incivility or worse in their group’s relationships, the group loses a critical moral compass. Members look to leader responses as providing important information on the group’s norms. A non-reaction communicates that civility and respect are not important values for the group.
    2. Lack of Commitment. Leaders’ actions that demonstrate low commitment to the group’s mission cause serious damage to the group’s shared values. Group’s pull together, putting aside petty differences in support of a larger, shared mission. Any sign from leader’s that they lack commitment to that goal, removes a critical uniting force for a group.
    3. Negative Modeling. The most insidious contribution of poor leaders is to model dysfunctional behavior. Poor behavior by leaders has a reverberating quality. It influences the behavior of members far beyond expectation. When employees receive or observe incivility from supervisors, they conclude that it is either time to leave this job or to start acting in the same way. These behaviors include gossiping, snide remarks, scowls, sarcasm, and beyond.

Leadership matters. Group members carefully monitor their environment for leadership cues on relationship and values. A consistent, constructive message requires a disciplined approach.

To build a supportive team with vibrant dialog among its members, leaders have a significant role in setting the agenda:

    1. Setting and Maintaining Direction
    2. Living Commitment to Values and Mission
    3. Modeling Civility and Respect

Which of these presents the greatest challenge to leaders today?


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