“Do as I say, not as I do” leadership model recipe for disaster

July 14, 2014

By: Rachel Catanach

Recently on the front page of the Financial Times, there was an article about an internal video sent out to Deutsche Bank traders by Colin Fan, the co-head of the global investment bank. The video included a severe warning to traders about their online behavior.

“Some of you are falling way short of our established standards. Let’s be clear: our reputation is everything. Being boastful, indiscreet and vulgar is not OK. It will have serious consequences for your career. And, I have lost patience on this issue.”

There were a couple of interesting aspects about this article: One, it received front page coverage in the Financial Times. Second, it really hit home that good reputation starts from within. Individual and corporate values need to be aligned. And corporates need to ensure their vision and values are not just hollow words – that they are supported by policies, processes and positive actions that reinforce desired corporate behaviours.

Here are four things a company can do to build a culture where people act as the company wishes to be seen.

  • Make reputation everyone’s job: Companies should endeavor to create a culture and an organizational structure that view the brand and reputation as inextricably intertwined. A company’s reputation is everyone’s responsibility – not just a function of communications or marketing.
  • Start from the top: Leaders who follow the “Do as I say, not as I do” model are doing their company a disservice and potentially irreparable harm. Employees are extremely attuned to how their leaders behave. They are more likely to take ownership of reputation in an organization where the leader models the desired behaviors. The bigger the gap between a leader’s behaviour and organisational values, the less likely employees are to take individual responsibility for the company’s reputation.
  • Hire for attitude: It is difficult to change a person’s fundamental attitude and outlook once they are on board. Employers should therefore hire those people who are naturally in sync with the company’s cultural DNA. This is of course easy to say, but less easy to do.
  • Have zero tolerance for unacceptable behavior: Employers are often more tolerant of bad behavior from high performers, fearful of the impact their dismissal may have on business results. This is short-term thinking. Ongoing bad behavior from high performers is like the worm that turns. It can rot an organization’s fabric, impacting morale and undermining the leadership. Acting swiftly to address bad behaviour signals that it is unacceptable and that the leadership is serious about managing the company’s reputation in an authentic way.

Deutsche Bank’s Colin Fan should be commended for taking a strong stance. Let’s hope he is not doing too little, too late.

Rachel Catanach is FleishmanHillard’s Reputation Practice Leader for China. You can reach her at rachel.catanach@fleishman.com.