Much of leadership training focuses on how a manager can get his or her people to behave or perform in positive ways. But one dynamic that is often missed is the concept of Modeling. Simply put, modeling is demonstrating the behavior you would like to see others demonstrate. While this is an elementary idea–essentially a variation of the Golden Rule–it is easier said than done (do as I say, not as I do)!
Most organizations have structures and job roles in place that make it convenient for members in the hierarchy to avoid behaving as their staff needs to behave. Let me give you a simple example: work hours. “Exempt” positions, i.e., those not subject to hourly computation of compensation, work more by the job than by the clock. While people in these positions have more flexibility with their time on the job–they can schedule a personal appointment of catch their kid’s soccer game during “official” work time–they often are working at night or on the weekends without any additional compensation. So there are built in pros and cons to these structures. What does this have to do with modeling?
If a boss, who normally does have this kind of flexibility, frequently shows up late for work, the team notices and wonders why this is acceptable. They wonder, “If it is so important for me to be here at the stroke of 8:30, why doesn’t this apply to her?” The key here is that if there is a reason for the tardiness, it can often be seen as acceptable. But because of the built in flexibility of the position, the boss can be late for work without an acceptable reason–just because she can.
If this is the case perceived by the staff, one can see why the credibility of the boss can be compromised. The team can easily think that if the boss can come in whenever they want, it must not be that important to be present at an appointed time. There is a sense of unfairness. This is a minor example, but think how this principle is demonstrated every day. How about the way we interact with others and the language we use? How about gossiping and talking disparagingly about others? How about telling the truth? How about our own adherence to policies set by the organization? How about our own behavioral examples we set for our children?
If leadership training is intended to help build skills of influencing the behavior of others, it needs to refer to the obvious and powerful impact of modeling. The single best way to influence the behavior of others is to model that behavior yourself. Seeing you as the boss do it, and how well it works for you, makes it attractive for others to mirror what they see the leader do.