Model the Behavior You Desire

A whole bunch of years ago I was invited to speak at a conference for retailers of outdoor power equipment. I had work in some adjacent industries for years but I hadn’t worked with this specific group before so I didn’t know them well.

I was mingling a bit with them at one of the evening functions and happened into a small group of dealers. One of them seemed to be doing the majority of the talking. He was telling his peers about a new video camera system he had installed in his dealership. He had enough cameras that he could see every inch of his business with them. 

What made it really unique at the time was he could see the videos from his home over something called the internet. (I did say it was a WHOLE BUNCH of years ago.) He was kind of bragging that none of his employees could do anything without him knowing about it. Then he turned to me and asked what I thought of that. 

Well I couldn’t exactly tell him my first thought. That’s because my first thought was I was really glad I didn’t work for this guy. So I shared my second thought. I said it was actually only fair that he should be watching his people that closely. 

He asked why that was “fair” and I told him it was fair because they are watching him that closely too. I said that they watched every move he made. They weighed it against every word he said. They try to determine if what was done matched what was said. I said they were watching him to determine if they can trust him. They are watching to see if you’re the kind of leader worth following. 

I added that they are watching that closely because every leader leads by example whether they intend to or not. 

That’s as true for you as it was for that business owner. Your people watch every move you make and listen to every word you say. If those two things aren’t in sync they merely toss aside what was said and follow your actions. They do want you do about 100 times faster than they do what you say. 

Whatever you want your people to be you need to be first. However you want your people to think, you need to think first. However you want them to behave you need to behave. If you want them to have a positive attitude then you must have a positive attitude first. If you expect them to care for customers then you need to care for them first. 

As a leader you are your people’s model for the behavior they will exhibit. If you’re modeling successful behavior then you can expect the same from them. If you’re modeling behavior that will lead to something other than success then don’t be surprised when they do the same. 

What you model for your people you get from your people. If you want some changes from your people it’s more than likely those changes will have to start with you.

When Employee Development Stops

Authentic Leaders never have to guess when one of their followers is fully developed. That’s because they know they never are. They know that because they understand that their own development never stops. 

But some leaders and organizations haven’t exactly figured that out. Their “development” programs and training classes are intended for some but not all of their people. Some people are deemed “worth” an investment and some are not. 

Some organizations have what they call their “talent pool” where the people most preferred by the leadership team is invited to swim. The rest of the organization remains beached, figuratively and literally. They are left high and dry when it comes to their professional development. 

But here’s the thing; not every rose blooms on the same day. Not every banana ripens at the same time. Not every person matures, learns, and contributes at the same pace. 

It is normal and in fact necessary that leaders and organizations make judgments about their people. Hopefully, they can do that without being judgmental…but that’s another blog post. 

They need to make judgments about their skill levels, “fit” in the organization, potential for advancement, and the probability of becoming a leader themselves. 

That’s all okay. Where the problems start is when they make that judgement one time and it becomes permanent with no further assessment of the individual. The person is effectively “pigeon holed” as someone who the organization sees as “future less.” 

The reality is that person’s future is limitless IF they are led by a true leader. A leader who invests in all their people. An Authentic Leader who puts their people in a position where they can excel. Sometimes that may mean moving them into a position where they will be uncomfortable for a while and sometimes that may even mean helping them transition to another company entirely. 

Either way it’s done with the best interest of the individual in mind. 

So…when was the last time you invested even a few moments to reevaluate the people you’re responsible for leading. Have their skills changed? Has their attitude changed? Have the job requirements changed. Has your perception of them changed? 

When you periodically evaluate your teams with fresh eyes you may find some budding superstars up on that beach where you parked them. You may also find that some of your previously anointed “talent” are nothing more than clown fish in your talent pool. 

Authentic Leaders do not make permanent judgments about their people based on temporary circumstances. They also understand that all circumstances are temporary. 

Evaluate your people for who, where and what they are today. Your earlier judgment may have been a little too early to see them for who they really are.

The Remote Work Genie is Out of the Bottle

At last! Finally people are returning to their places of work. Office buildings are coming alive with the sounds of collaboration and spontaneous conversations. It’s an awesome sign that at least in parts of the world “things” are returning to normal.

“Normal” however is a relative term. It would be a terrible waste of an unprecedented time of learning if everything went back to exactly the way it was before turmoil overtook almost every business.

But some companies seem determined to return as close to pre-pandemic working conditions as possible.

It won’t be possible!

It won’t be possible because their employees won’t allow it. There will be a mighty battle for control within organizations that try to return completely to the way things were in the “before times.” Make no mistake about it, organizations that insist on having all employees in the office full time, all the time feel that is the only way they can control their people.

The truth is Authentic Leaders need neither compliance or control because they have the commitment of their people.

Employee survey after employee survey shows those organizations will be fighting a losing battle. Literally losing. Losing people by the droves. When you average out some of the bigger surveys you discover that 39% of an organization’s employees say they will consider quitting rather than returning to the office full time. Companies that have been among the first to attempt returning their people back to full time office work are discovering that half of that 39% are doing more than considering, they are in fact quitting.

If your organization is considering returning your workforce to full time office work there are a few things you may want to consider.

First, you have no control over who returns and who quits. You will lose some very talented people. The least engaged and least productive people are in fact the most likely to stay. You will negatively impact the productivity of your organization…all in the name of “control.”

One of the greatest resources a company has when recruiting new employees is it’s current employees. They can be constant “ambassadors” for your organization. Or not. Which one do you think is the more likely case if you’ve forced them to return to old, in many cases less productive ways? All in the name of control.

As you lose employees you will likely want to replace them. Good luck with that. Some surveys show over 80% of Millennial and Gen Z employees would not even accept an interview with a company that doesn’t offer flexible remote work options. You will struggle mightily to hire new employees…all in the name of control.

There are some people who, for a variety of reasons, cannot work remotely. There are some people who simply should not work remotely. But over the last 15 months most office employees have proven that they can. Their expectation is that they will be allowed to continue that at least part time.

The remote work genie is out of the bottle and no one is going to get it all the way back in.

There is no doubt about the power of collaboration and spontaneous hallway conversations. Face-to-face meetings allow people to connect and communicate in a way that Zoom and Teams never will. Every organization needs people back in the office at least sometimes.

They also need to find the balance that allows a level of flexibility for their people.

Nothing will go back to exactly the way it was before the pandemic. It won’t because it can’t. Organizations that learn to adapt to that reality will have a huge competitive advantage when recruiting new employees. They will also be far more likely to retain the talented ones they already have.

People Leadership

Leadership is about people and it’s only about people. No one can lead a company, they can only lead the people who make up the company. There are no “team leaders,” there are only leaders who lead the people on the team. 

Stuff, businesses, buildings and budgets need to be managed, people need to be led.

That’s why interpersonal skills are so critical for effective leadership. If you cannot relate to the people you’re leading then you won’t be leading them for long. Effective leaders know that communication is vital when attempting to relate to others. That’s why their efforts to improve their communication skills is never ending. 

Many people occupy leadership positions but it seems these days as if fewer and fewer of them actually attempt to truly lead. They issue edicts and write policies without so much as a thought of how it may impact the people they supposedly lead. 

Whether intentional or not the actions they take and the statements they make build barriers between them and the people they need to grow their organizations. 

Effective Authentic Leaders don’t merely occupy a leadership position, they actually lead. They build bridges between themselves and their people. They use their interpersonal skills to break through barriers. Once the barriers are down their excellent communication skills come into play. The seek first to understand the people they lead. They talk with them, not to them. They listen twice as much as they talk. They listen with more than their ears, they listen with their heart as well. 

Edicts and policies attempt to force the compliance of people. Interpersonal skills combined with thoughtful communication build the willing commitment of people. 

What amazes me most is how many people in leadership positions don’t even like the people they should be leading. They often refer to them with words and phrases meant to “put them in their place.” Poor leaders want the people who work for them to know that their “leader” is smarter than they will ever be. Poor leaders sentences are laced with I I I, as in I want, I will, I did this and on and on. 

Authentic Leaders not only like the people they lead, they care for them. Immensely. They refer to their people with words and phrases meant to build them up and help them see their full potential. Authentic Leaders want the people who work with them to believe they can accomplish anything, even one day surpassing the leader. Their sentences are full of words such as, we, ours, and us. You’ll seldom hear an “I” come out of their mouth. 

The next time you’re speaking with your team record what you say. Then listen to it with a critical ear. If your message is short on “we” “ours” and “us” then your people may perceive you as a person in a leadership position who doesn’t really lead…or care about them.

If that’s the case you’re costing your organization an opportunity to grow and you’re limiting the potential of the people you could be leading. You might be fine with that but if you’re not then you have work to do. 

That work will begin with a decision to change your thinking. You can reap the many rewards of actually leading people or you can suffer the unending consequences of treating your people like things. 

The choice, as always, is yours to make.

Singles and Homers

Let’s say you’re the coach of a baseball or softball team. You have your choice of a player who hits a single 9 out of 10 times at bat. Or, you can choose a slugger who hits a home run 1 out of 15 times at bat. The downside is when the slugger doesn’t hit one out of the park they almost always strike out.

So which would you choose?

I suppose it might depend on whether the home runs came with people on base. But that’s true for the singles hitter too. In fact, it’s far more likely for the singles hitter to have people on base than it is for the home run hitter. That’s simply because the singles hitter collects so many more hits. 

The home runs may be more celebrated but all the singles add up over time. As a leader you may have one superstar performer and your temptation might be to invest the majority of your time with them. But never forget the steady performance of the remainder of your team. 

Their efforts add up over time. Investing time and energy with them could very well turn one of them into your next star performer. 

If you have people in your organization who are not worth investing in then you have people who shouldn’t be in your organization. Don’t forget that. 

Everyone in your organization matters. They all bring some unique value. If you’re an Authentic Leader you will find that value to help them grow so they can help you grow your organization. 

Investing in your people, especially investing your time, is one of the best investments you can make. You can also invest in them by honoring every accomplishment of both your sluggers and singles hitters. Big and small, all accomplishments are worth celebrating. 

People Were People Before They Were Your People

So this is a post that will likely cause me some trouble with the politically correct crowd. That’s because I’m going to rip on, just a little, all the new fancy titles we now see. Chief Inclusion Officer is one that comes to mind. Except some companies have decided “chief” is now offensive so they can’t use that title anymore. 

Companies seem to be in a rush to add titles with the words diversity, inclusion, equality and the like. There are so many “buzz word” titles floating around that I couldn’t possible mention them all. These companies are trying to prove that everyone in their organization is valuable. Which is a worthy thing to do. But I have a question.

Instead of endowing people with fancy titles that say “we care” how about actually caring? How about showing you care for everyone equally instead of saying it again and again?

I have tremendous faith in people’s ability to figure out if the place they work gives a damn about them. Somebody in the company with a progressive sounding job title isn’t going to fool them. 

Which brings me to more traditional sounding titles and departments. Like Human Resources. Or maybe a little more modern sounding Human Asset Management Department. Or my personal least favorite, Human Capital Resource Group. 

The problem with departments or groups with those names is it sets up the mindset that people should be managed like any other piece of capital or asset. I had the unhappy experience about 18 months ago of sitting next to a consultant during a dinner. We struck up a conversation about how their consultancy advises their clients. 

He said that when they recommend downsizing they look at job titles, work responsibilities, cost of “asset,” and how much longer the asset would be of value. They do not recommend the termination of anyone by name, that makes it too personal and may cause the management of the client company to hesitate. 

It’s sort of the same thought process as when a farmer won’t name a pig or a cow that they intend to eat one day. 

The consultant doesn’t really care how a client company thinks of their people, so long as they don’t think of them as people. They are merely assets or capital like a copier or computer. You pay them and you own them. 

But here’s the thing. They ARE people. They have always been people. They will always be people. You may pay them but you don’t own them. 

Businesses that forget that their primary business is the people business will not last. It makes no difference what you see or what you make, you are in the people business. Your people were people long before they were your people. 

It is beyond foolish for you as a leader to expect your people to care for your business or it’s customers when the best you can do is give someone in the company a new-age title that shows how progressive your organization is. People don’t care how progressive the company is when the people running the company don’t demonstrate that the company cares about them. 

When the company shows they care about their people, all their people, equally, they don’t need fancy titles. If the company fails to show they care about their people no amount of fancy titles will convince them otherwise. 

Inclusion, honoring diversity, and treating everyone equally won’t come from titles or committees, it comes from an Authentic Leader demonstrating those values on a daily basis. 

The Reward for Growing People

A good manager can grow a business. Most often they do it with very little help. That’s because the people who work for them are not exactly engaged with helping to grow the business. 

The most likely cause of that lack of engagement is the fact that they are managed rather than led. 

That limits how much and how fast even a great manager can grow their business. While they may have the compliance of those who work for them they do not have their commitment. It’s tough to grow anything with a bunch of merely compliant people. 

Managed people will always create problems for a business, for the customers of the business and especially for the manager. I’d say most of them don’t do it intentionally, it’s an offshoot of their lack of engagement. 

That’s why I tell managers that most of the “people problems” in their organization are caused by them, not the people who seem to be the problem. 

I can say that with a high degree of confidence because when those same people are exposed to Authentic Leadership they engage rather quickly. Sooner rather than later they commit to that leader. 

An Authentic Leader’s potential to grow a business is unlimited. It’s unlimited because they lead their people. They grow their people knowing full well that as their people grow those people will grow the business.

An Authentic Leader invests a portion of their time EVERYDAY to grow their people. They invest of part of themselves in their people and they celebrate the success of the individuals they lead…even over their own success. 

Authentic Leaders invest the time to know and understand their people. They know each person’s unique situation. They know their goals. They know their challenges. Most importantly they know how they can help them achieve their goals and overcome their challenges. 

Each day an Authentic Leader takes intentional action to SHOW their people that they care. They SHOW their people that they come first. They SHOW their people that they understand that every leader’s success is completely dependent upon the success of the people they lead.

Their people commit to the leader because of what the leader does for them. Authentic Leaders seldom deal with attitude issues. They don’t have the tardiness and absenteeism concerns that managers have. They have a much easier time recruiting new employees because the employees they already have do the recruiting for them.

All that because their people are led instead of managed. The rewards of growing people are many. One is knowing that as your people are growing your business you’re making a positive difference in their lives. 

As an Authentic Leader that difference is likely to outlast your time as their leader. That may be the biggest reward of all.