In these Leading Thoughts, I usually talk about big broad themes of leadership and the care of a leader’s soul. Sometimes, though, the matters I find hindering leaders are so practical and personal that they are almost embarrassing to bring up. Still, if mentioning them will help you, I’ll do it. Here’s one of them.

Suppose I told you that because of an irritating personal habit, I’ve seen a person get passed over for promotion recently. What if I also said that this same habit kept another person from being hired and assured that a third person was targeted for dismissal. This habit, by the way, is easily fixed. It is also likely the offenders didn’t even know they were doing it. Yet I’ve heard this bad habit discussed often around executive conference tables.

What is it? Chaos and noise during phone calls.

Sounds almost too small to bring up, doesn’t it? Yet you’ve surely had the experience I’m talking about. You call someone. You have something fairly important to discuss. They say they have the time. The conversation begins.

Then, it happens. Utter chaos. It comes in a variety of forms. Perhaps there’s a dog. Or several. They won’t shut up. There’s a bird in the back yard and the pups just can’t let it go. So not only is there wild barking during the entire call, but the person you’re talking to is constantly correcting the dogs or jumping off the phone to deal with them or distracted by all the commotion. You aren’t angry with them. You just can’t conduct a serious conversation this way. And you wonder if it is always like this—if this is how all calls go with this person. Or if this is the constant state of their life.

It is the same when children are being rowdy behind a phone call. Compassionate as you are about the mother or father juggling home life and work, you can’t get anything done. You also wonder if they can get anything done in that environment. Then, if they work for you, you wonder if they are making calls to your clients with the same racket drowning out nearly every other word. It is unprofessional and unproductive. You’re concerned about how your firm is being represented.

I worked with a man over a period of years who insisted on making his calls while he was driving. Fine with me. I do the same. But this guy punctuated our business talks by chastising other drivers along the way. So I might be discussing something important while he told an idiot driver to get out of the way. Or he interrupted me to ask how many points he would get if he hit a fool in a custom van. No matter how vital our discussion, our words might easily be punctuated by a string of foul language while he verbally managed traffic in his city. Clearly, he wasn’t listening. Clearly, his judgement was in question. Clearly, he was diminishing himself and his usefulness by his conduct.

Now, I know it can sound like I’m the old man griping about the volume of the music in a restaurant. Yet I’ve seen real world consequences from this habit of allowing raucous interference with phone calls.

The solution is simple. Teach people to manage their phone call environment. Set the standards you expect. Gently confront those who offend. Make quality calls part of your benchmark for excellence. And keep an eye on your own conduct in this area. Model what you need from others. Frankly, a firing over this should never be necessary.