Not too far back, I had been working with a client for quite a while and we were having a training session on time-management when the leader of the organization came in about 5-minutes late. His role in the training was to “kick-off” the training, tell the troops why it was important, and to support them being there for the training. The irony wasn’t lost on me and it wasn’t lost on the team as the training was very painful and most of the people there were disengaged. Most of the training I do is designed to be very interactive and conversational so after about 20 minutes of trying to drag them into the conversation, I called an audible.
Since they have been a client for several months, I had built some rapport with them and asked them what’s going on? They explained that it was frustrating for them to be in a time management class. They went on to explain that they were all on time for the training (which I had noticed). In the seats and ready to go. They were frustrated because they didn’t feel like it was them who needed the training, but it was the leadership team who needed it instead. And as they said, they were the ones sitting in the class, not the leaders. I was glad and grateful that they brought it up…
You see, when you are in a leadership role, regardless of your title, people look to you. They watch you and in some cases, they might even study you. Whether you realize it or not, when you walk through the office or the plant or the warehouse, your people are watching you. They want to see what the leader does, and how he/she does it. Does the leader walk fast and talk fast? Does the leader engage with their people? Does the person look happy or perpetually pissed off? All of this plays into how your people perceive you.
But more importantly, they want to see if your actions match your words. They want to see if what you say is the same as what you do. When it does, you are on your way to effective leadership. When it doesn’t, you are building a culture of distrust. Our brains have an amazing feature that our ears try to reconcile with our eyes. So, if our eyes see something, our brain tries to match it with what we hear.
When it doesn’t match, you are basically saying telling your folks: “Do as I say, not as I do.” This is stupid. Don’t be stupid.
If you think that time-management, as in this case, is important, then you go first and you start being on-time. When you schedule people to be somewhere but then you show up late, it is the same as telling them that your time is more important than their time. Or that you matter and they don’t. If you are perpetually late, DO NOT sign your people up for time management classes.
I had a good conversation with the time-management class in the case above and after they were allowed to vent a little bit, we got back to the curriculum and the training turned out to be pretty good. And when I had the leadership team together the next day, I used this little example for an opportunity for some group leadership coaching. We had a good and honest, if a little painful, conversation about “You go first.”
Like it or not, your people will mirror what they see from you. They will give back what you give them. So whatever behavior it is that you are trying to instill in them, you must go first. Lead from the front if you want your team to follow you.