I was reminded again recently of how important it is to build trust with your peers and how sometimes it can be a long and difficult process getting people to trust you and your intentions. One misstep can tear down what it has taken years to build.
One of the most dangerous behaviors you can participate in is to gossip about your peers with your subordinates. It is an ugly practice and it absolutely devastates a leader’s credibility. I recently observed a leader who engaged two direct reports in a conversation about one of his peers. They seemed blissfully unaware of how negative they sounded as they collectively mocked and ridiculed a manager from another department. Not only was the senior manager in the room ok with the conversation, he looked like he was really enjoying himself.
As I was observing the interaction playing out in front of me, a couple of thoughts ran through my head. What would this senior leader say to his peer if she found out what he had said? What is he teaching his subordinates about respect? Did he think this type of talk would not reflect on his character or damage his credibility? And was he really so naive that he didn’t understand that it was only a matter of time before his subordinates did the same thing to him?
Disparaging a peer in front of subordinates doesn’t make you cool. Their apparent comfort with the gossip doesn’t make it right or ok. It just makes you look unprofessional and petty. If you never trust any other piece of information I share with you, please trust this: what you say WILL get back to your peer and it will break any trust you had built in the relationship.
The reason so many reality shows have huge followings is that it is human nature to enjoy other people’s drama. It’s entertaining. And when you bash a co-worker to subordinates you stop being their leader and you become their entertainment. Your people will eventually share your comments with someone else if for no other good reason than it is a great story.
So before you sound off to your subordinates about how another manager just pushed your buttons or made a fool of himself in a meeting, STOP. Don’t trade your character and credibility for the brief relief you will feel by venting your feelings. They are worth so much more. Go behind closed doors and call a trusted friend outside of work. And if there truly is an issue that needs attention, address it directly with your peer. It will show that you respect them and you are committed to investing in making the relationship stronger.
It is amazing how many leaders engage in gossip about their peers in the workplace. Yet these same people are filled with righteous indignation when they hear that someone has been talking about them behind their back. Avoid this land mine altogether by ALWAYS demonstrating respect when speaking about your peers in the workplace. Don’t allow yourself to be baited into participating in a gossip session, take the high road and remain professional. As a leader, people are modeling their behavior after you. Remember, as John Maxwell noted, “We teach what we know – but we reproduce what we are.”
Take a moment to honestly ask yourself: What example am I setting for my people?
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