Everyday Leadership: Leaders should clarify, seek employee buy-in

My sister, Sylvia, was the oldest child in the family followed by three boys. From the furthest reach of my memory, she was always by Mom’s side either helping in the kitchen or cleaning the house. When Mom and Dad had to be gone for an afternoon, Sylvia was in charge. She was like a second Mom and mostly we obeyed her like we would Mom.

Since Saturday was usually cleaning day, it was also one of our few conflicts. The vacuum cleaner fired up just as Mighty Mouse or Underdog came on the fuzzy screen that served as television in those days. I begged for the cleaning to be postponed until our favorite cartoons were over. However, Sylvia knew from experience that all of them were our favorites. My protests continued until the living room floors were thoroughly cleaned and the noisy monster quieted.

Our bedroom usually looked like a war zone with clothes hanging from every bedpost and covering the dresser, bureau and floor. Whether Mom initiated the arranging and scouring of the bedroom or if Sylvia took it upon herself, baskets of clothes were filled and the room cleaned. For a few days we struggled to find clothes that once lay in plain sight. Occasionally in frustration, I would holler, “Where did you hide my socks?” In hind sight, I was just being mean-spirited and unfair.

In those days we had a division of labor. Mom and Sylvia took care of cooking and cleaning the house and Dad and the boys were responsible for the barn work and planting and tending the crops. Occasionally, Mom would put pressure on Dad and Dad came down on us three boys to shoulder our responsibilities indoors. For a few weeks, clothes were put away or carried down to the laundry and we even took turns washing dishes. I am ashamed to say, the pattern of our messiness always returned.

Similar shirking of responsibilities and even outbursts from frustration happen in the workplace. Sometimes they result from lack of clarity regarding responsibilities. Other times they occur due to lack of ownership or disagreement regarding appropriate roles or duties. A lot of conflict at work could be eliminated with structured group communication about how work should be accomplished and how priorities should be met. Come to think of it there are a couple of my responsibilities I have put off that need to be addressed (Note to self – Straighten my office). The best leaders know that some time spent in clarifying and getting buy-in for responsibilities can produce valuable payback in greater efficiency and higher morale. Seeking clarity and buy-in for responsibilities is not only a nice thing to do, it makes business sense by improving customer service and profit margins.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.