Do you have kids? Want some? (Kidding – mine are great and you can’t have them and no, I’m not implying your kids or mine look like this post’s picture…). I ask this first question to kick off our discussion of the fourth Leadership Principle: Set the Example. Anyone who has kids or has spent any time around them knows this principle can be an exceedingly powerful and/or embarrassing one.
Kids are incredible mimics and they are very adept at self-preservation. Let’s explore.
As far as being mimics, if you do it, they do it (monkey see, monkey do, right?). If you take out the trash, fold laundry, clean up after yourself, etc. you’ll find them doing the same (or at least not complaining when you ask them to perform those thrilling tasks). They’ll also imitate the bad behaviors. Pick your nose. Kick the dog. Drink too much. Drive like a maniac. How do you think they’ll behave in their teenage years? Yeahhhh…
Fortunately for them no matter how badly you behave, you’re not allowed to get mad at them or discipline them when they behave that way. Why? Because “well you do it” is an incredibly powerful defense. How do you as a parent have a whit of moral authority in such a situation? Short answer – you don’t.
No, you haven’t been transported to a child rearing blog. This dynamic applies in business more than you might appreciate.
I want you to reflect for about 30 seconds on the last time you saw a leader in your organization fail to set the example. They either pulled the “do as I say, not as I do” number or they did something less than leader-like when they thought no one was watching. How did you feel about them at that moment? I’m sure the words “frustrated” and “disappointed” probably jump to mind.
Here’s the more difficult question – when have YOU been that leader? The one who tells their team to do something they wouldn’t do themselves? It hurts to look at these things, doesn’t it? I’ve been as guilty of this as the next manager at times. The most important thing in those situations is realizing you’re in the wrong and rectifying it immediately.
I’m not going to belabor this post with a ton of examples. If you don’t know what the example is that you need to set, there are deeper issues you need to wrestle with. Your people will definitely follow the monkey see, monkey do model. Be a good monkey. Act the way you want them to act. It preserves your moral authority as a leader. It’s much easier to correct bad behaviors on your team when you’re modeling the good behaviors. More importantly, bad behaviors become quite rare when there’s a great example for your team to follow (sort of what happens when soldiers see their leader turning a wrench).
I’d love to hear your stories about times when you saw leaders either nail this principle or need to be hammered by it. What has your experience been with leaders setting/not setting the example?
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC