You are what you lead…

Whenever I hear a leader lament about their followers, I almost always cast an accusatory glance squarely in their direction. Certainly some leaders “inherit” troubled subordinates – we’ve all encountered the eternal contrarian who makes us roll our eyes whenever they address a suggestion with “I know you mean well, but that will never work because…”. Still, a leaders job is to engage their followers in such a way that either challenges them to do their best or move out of the way of those who will.

To the layperson, leaders are reflections of the people who follow them – like it or not.

I know you’re probably thinking of every “do as I say, not as I do” axiom there is – especially if you’re a parent. I also know that you expect me to climb onto a soapbox and proclaim the virtues of transformation leadership, and how every leader should inspire their followers to be great (i.e. the Pygmalion Effect). I do believe that the tenets of the transformational leadership theory have merit – anecdotally and scientifically. In her book “The Art and Science of Leadership”, Afsaneh Nahavandi noted that transformational/inspirational leaders inspire trust and loyalty in their followers by forming substantive bonds and relationships. Additional research (Google “Bass Avolio Burns leadership” to gain more historical insight into the full-range leadership theory) espouses the importance of relationship management in increasing the performance of followers.

No matter the evidence, one is hard-pressed to argue against the concept of modeling behavior – especially as it relates to creating a culture of performance and expectation. Simply put, I can’t expect my children to act poised and composed in public if I don’t model that same behavior in front of them at home. That simple analogy can be extended to the workplace as well – as leaders must be walking examples of the vision and mission of the organizations we represent.  We must model the same behavior that we expect to see from our subordinates.

Leaders must be mindful of the culture they cultivate and nurture among those they lead. If there is continuous discord, poor performance, lack of initiative and more across the general subordinate population, we must take a hard look at how we approach our work. Are we continually modeling behavior that inspires others to achieve communal tasks?

If there is continual dysfunction within the teams we lead, we may do well to start the investigative process by looking in the mirror…


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