Today, June 14th is Flag Day in the US.  It is a day to pause and pay respect to the flag, a symbol for our country.  To many the US flag at it’s most basic level is a symbol for the inalienable rights of individuals and for a system of government that is for the people and by the people.

Flags can provoke powerful responses.  I have experienced deep feelings of humility and gratitude when seeing the flag as part of a remembrance at a military funeral and deep pride when the flag is displayed as a celebration on the Fourth of July.  Conversely I had a deeply negative and visceral reaction just seeing the Nazi flag when the setting was as innocuous as seeing the play, The Sound of Music.

In the context of work, leaders can fly all sorts of flags.  By flag flying I mean, by words or actions what people interpret to be the priorities of their leaders.  Examples of flags leaders might be (consciously or unconsciously) flying:

“For the business”

“For a fun environment”

“For Q1 results”

“For the mission”

“For the stock price”

“For innovation”

“For sales”

“For collaboration”

“For this division”

“For safety”

“For productivity”

“For me”

“For impact on the community”

“For the environment”

“For rigorous analysis”

“For consensus”

Flags, as symbols, have the potential to focus attention, attract/push away, and stir emotions.  The questions then are:

  • If you were to ask your team to describe what flag are you flying, what would they say?
  • Is that the flag you intended?
  • Is that the best flag for this circumstance?
  • Is your flag the same as others flags being flown around the organization? Do they complement or confuse?
  • Is my flag pulling people in or pushing them away?
  • How does my flag make people feel? Energized? How hum?

Flags can be a rallying point.  All leaders are carrying around some sort of flag. Make sure it is sending the message you want.  –And while metaphorical flags are important, don’t forget to put out a real flag.