Yes, I know. It’s a completely overdone quote. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” It seems like everyone knows that quote and ranks it among their list of favorite sayings. They have magnets and bumper stickers make up containing these specific words of Ghandi’s, yet in all likelihood you’ve been cut off or screamed at by someone advertising their appreciation of those words.
That’s because, like most things in life, the sentiment is one thing and the actions are another. Wanting to lose weight and getting up at 6am to exercise are two different things with vastly different results. Believing that littering is awful and missing the trash can by a couple of feet and leaving it there are two different things.
The worst thing is when a person not only claims a sentiment or a value as important while not actually taking action on it; they proscribe the behavior for others. Gets you riled up just thinking about that right? In fact, dealing with people who talk the talk and refuse to walk the walk ranks as one of many people’s biggest pet peeves. Yet it happens all the time in workplaces and families across the world. Bosses, parents, teachers – all telling us how to behave without bothering to behave that way themselves.
We once trained a group of middle school teachers and the list of their biggest challenges included students: talking in class, passing notes, not paying attention, and playing with their phone. Yet nearly all of them did just that while we were training, and yes, I sympathize with those teachers because those disruptions are annoying!
So why am I going on about all of this? It’s because the number one question we get asked as Leadership Development professionals is this, “How can I get my employees to perform better?” and I bet you can guess the first thing we ask after hearing that, “What have you done yourself to exhibit the behaviors you want to see in your company?”
Boy, that’s a toughie. If you want better communication, higher productivity, more teamwork in your business you have to demonstrate the behavior. Not only does it provide valuable clues to the level of acceptable behavior within your business, it makes you a better leader by willing to be open with your team. Imagine if you had a boss, or the owner of the company come into a big meeting and announce that he or she wanted to improve their own personal communication and asked you for your help. Then in the following weeks asked for feedback on their communication, followed up with you, and made you feel listened anytime you interacted with them. That would make you feel a little bit different about that person, and encouraged to work on your communication skills yourself. Soon, this act of publicly “being the change” would create a huge change in the company.
Being a leader is tricky. It’s not a job everyone signs up for, and it certainly isn’t granted by title alone. People follow those that inspire them, and in order to inspire someone you actually have to do something worth emulating. It’s far easier to ask others to perform a behavior or task that you are willing to do yourself. Pick one small thing – asking for feedback, being a better listener, including more people – anything that bugs you about performance in your company and announce your intentions to do better. Give it 30 days of honest effort and we guarantee you will see a change in your team.