To better manage others, manage yourself

“I am committed to work-life balance,” you say in a team meeting. Then you end up working with your team until 8 p.m. every night for the rest of the week revisiting budget scenarios. “Vacations are essential for restoration,” you advise your direct reports, but you spend your own vacation jumping on quick calls and monitoring email.


You may have been here—said one thing, but then did something else. Busy leaders might give themselves a pass because they “have no choice” or because “it’s not that big of a deal.” While it may or may not be a big deal for you, your choices as a leader have ripple effects throughout your entire organization.

When it comes to leadership in the modern workplace, the old adage “do as I say, not as I do” just doesn’t cut it. All day, every day, you’re signaling through your words and actions what it takes to be successful on your team. Leader signals reverberate, and they can have massive unintended consequences.

While it’s a heavy responsibility to accept, there are ways to send better signals even in high-pressure, fast-moving cultures. Here are a few ideas to get you started:



You mean to give a meeting your full attention, but the allure of your device is hard to resist. So you end up reading the text, responding to the text, and the next thing you know, 10 minutes have passed.

Chances are, you don’t actually think the meetings you’re multi-tasking in are a waste of time. (If you do, don’t go, or work with your team to improve meeting quality.) But the signals you’re sending suggest that the meeting is low-value, you don’t respect the meeting host, or you are simply too important to be in one conversation at a time. Multi-tasking is contagious and undermines the quality of the dialogue for everyone. Plus, it’s usually not even possible! Put your device away and give each conversation your full attention. It can go a tremendous way toward aligning your intentions and actions.



Leaving your feelings at the door is easier said than done. Even if you’re trying to hold it in, frustration, stress, and other negative emotions have a way of leaking out. Can’t shake a bad mood lingering from frustrations at home? Acknowledge it with your team, make it clear that it’s not about them, and then move on. Find yourself snapping at a direct report? Apologize, and do better next time.


Your most important job as a leader is to create an environment in which your team can be successful. An important part of this is stability. Yes, for organizations that are just starting up, or that put a special emphasis on innovation, “navigating ambiguity” is a skill set necessary for leaders and team members alike.

But ambiguity caused by decisions that are frequently “unmade,” objectives that remain a moving target, deadlines that get repeatedly moved up or pushed, or other regular fire drills doesn’t drive innovation—it can stymie productivity and damage team morale. By remaining as consistent as possible in your expectations, your team can have more capacity to roll with the punches that do come along.



You’re not going to change years of ingrained behaviors overnight. Instead, seek out—and stick to—small wins that signal to your team that you’re making an effort. For example, feel free to type out those evening and weekend emails to your heart’s content. But use the “send later” feature in your email client to make sure they go out during your team’s regular business hours. Or, start attending your meetings old-school with just a notepad and a pen. Your devices will appreciate the break.

Being a leader is hard work, but it’s even harder when you get in your own way. Take the extra time to make sure your signals are serving you and your team.