Communist Party leaders in a county in southwestern China recently received an interesting list of "10 Forbidden Behaviors."
I first read about this in The Washington Post, but several news reports have detailed the new rules for Pengshan County officials, which include: don't ask others to write documents for you; don't smoke or pick your teeth in public; don't ask others to pour you tea, carry your bags or open and close car doors for you; and don't use jargon in speeches.
According to the Post story, the county government set up an email address and phone line so residents can rat out any officials who violate these rules. The list of forbidden behaviors was widely mocked, with most people saying, in essence: "Duh, these are pretty basic rules for behaving properly."
That's exactly why I think a similar list should be created, de-communisted and issued to managers in every American workplace. (It should go to all the politicians here as well, but since this is a workplace column, I'll leave them alone.)
Why, you ask, would a modern-day workplace manager need a list of rudimentary rules of behavior?
Because, I answer, based on what I hear from readers, a lot of folks out there need a refresher course.
What's my long-standing workplace mantra? Be a decent human being.
Yet what do many of you, the great American workers, see out of your bosses and managers? Bad behavior. Violations of simple rules of decency. An unwillingness to do the easy things that make employees happy.
I'm painting with a broad brush. There are certainly plenty of good leaders, and more and more companies are realizing the advantages of an employee-first culture.
But let's just acknowledge that all of us — bosses, managers and employees — can benefit from a quick behavioral overview.
So I took the Pengshan County list, kept many of its ideas and added a few of my own. Then I wrapped the new list in an American flag and set it next to a speaker playing Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." on a loop for 24 hours.
I Just Work Here's List of 10 Totally Non-Communist All-American Forbidden Workplace Behaviors for Managers (and Probably for Workers and Politicians as Well).
1. Don't smoke or pick your teeth in public. (Kind of a no-brainer, but worth including, just in case. Hat tip to the Chinese.)
2. Don't rely on jargon.
Today's workers have highly tuned B.S. detectors, and nothing damages a leader's credibility more than talking to employees in sentences like, "I'm really feeling self-actualized about the initiative to bolster content development using an outside-the-box systems approach."
3. Don't be dodgy. This ties in with No. 2 but takes it a step further.
It's almost reflexive for a manager to spin things in a positive direction. That's a self-defeating plan in the long run, because spin is transparent, and you lose people's trust.
Say what's on your mind, whether it's good or bad news. Workers respect honesty and directness.
4. Don't do the once-a-month walkabout.
Your employees are the most important part of your company, and you should be a presence in the workplace, even if most of your work keeps you behind an office door.
Managers who come out once in a blue moon and act like pals with employees are immediately labeled phonies. If your people are important to you, set aside time as often as possible to get out and have honest (see No. 3) conversations with those people.
5. Don't call too many meetings.
Every single person on Earth and probably some of the more intelligent primates hate meetings. Find simpler ways to communicate. Your employees will love you for it.
6. Don't be a jerk.
Sounds simple enough, but examine your behavior.
Managers are busy, and sometimes in haste and under stress, frustration can override common sense. Are you asking someone to do something for you that you could just as easily do yourself? Did you come down too hard on someone? Did you blame someone for something that was your fault? Cleanse yourself of jerkiness by taking a moment each day to ask these questions.
7. Don't think you're too big to apologize. It's a logical follow to No. 6.
You have no idea the good that can come from an apology. Regardless of the size of the infraction, an apology from a manager or boss leaves a big impression on an employee. They see you as human, humble and a colleague who has flaws like everyone else. Never fear an apology.
8. Don't think too highly of yourself.
After years of hard work, you're finally the boss or manager. Congratulations. Now, tuck your ego in a desk drawer, and don't assume you know everything.
The best leaders listen to the ideas and opinions of every employee.
They don't flaunt their position; they humbly accept it and use their power to lift up others — and the company.
9. Don't Xerox your butt. (Just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. Also, ewww.)
10. Don't rely solely on this list.
Every manager, like every workplace, is different. One of the most important things you can do is take the time to think about how you should behave in your particular workplace. Come up with your own list, and go through it regularly. Don't stray too far from the things you know are important.
The key is taking the time to think. And taking the time to be a decent human being.
Note to readers: I hope you'll consider nominating your company for the Chicago Tribune's annual Top Workplaces survey. You can sign up online at chicagotribune.com/nominate, and make sure you do it by May 16.
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