People have to buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.
— John Maxwell
Humans are tribal people. As much as we want to think of ourselves as individuals, we have an innate need to run with the pack. We follow leaders. We are constantly watching their words and actions.
And we are hardwired from an early age to look for inconsistency in behavior in those around us. In a recent training session with leaders, we were discussing the level of distraction all of us experience today. One leader told this story:
He and his wife have two small girls aged two and four. He admits to being compulsive about checking his phone, even at home. His wife keeps urging him to put away his phone while he’s at home and pay attention to the girls because she reminds him, they’ll be gone in a blink of an eye. (His wife lost her father at an early age and feels strongly about cherishing the special moments of family life.)
One day he was out by himself with his little girls and he reflexively grabbed his phone while licking his ice cream. His four-year-old daughter yelled, “Daddy, put down your phone! We’ll be gone when you blink your eyes!”
Her message cut to his heart. He was being watched. He established a practice of placing his phone in a drawer near the front door when he got home and not checking the phone again until the girls were in bed.
People are always watching us. This is no more evident than in the workplace. We watch our leaders, we watch our peers, we watch our team members to know where we stand in the tribe.
This is an important lesson for leaders: people are always watching you. They watch how you think. They watch how you act. They watch how you communicate.
They are constantly looking for cues on how they should act. They monitor your moods. They try to predict your emotional responses.
More people, more scrutiny
And the higher in the organization you rise, the more people are watching you. Over the years, as your team grows from 5 to 500 to 5,000, you will come under more scrutiny. Not only are more people watching you, but as your power and authority increases, they observe you far more intensely — judging your character, behavior, and speech.
This can be positive or negative.
On the positive side, you can have a huge influence on the actions and behavior of people in a 360-degree circle around you.
On the negative side, you have a responsibility to show up consistently or be called out for not walking your talk.
In the workplace, leaders get the same scrutiny when we say one thing and do another. I worked with a CEO who was leading a deep cost-cutting campaign saying, “pennies add up to dollars!”
At a town hall meeting, he was called out by employees for using the company plane to fly to his vacation home across the country. He tried an eloquent defense of his behavior by explaining that the board had granted him the use of the plane three times a year as part of his compensation. He twisted and turned but was caught not walking his talk.
Here are some ways to ensure that you show up as a leader in a clear, consistent way:
Develop your leadership brand
You should take the time to think clearly about who you are and what you stand for as a leader. I recommend this exercise that has you choose three adjectives that you’d like people to use in describing you.
Live into your brand
When you’ve developed a clear idea of how you want people to perceive you as a leader, it’s important to live into your brand. Be committed. That means changing your thinking, your behavior, and your communication to align with how you want to be understood by all of the people most important to you.
Walk your talk
When we say one thing and do another it creates cognitive dissonance, that uncomfortable mental state of inconsistent beliefs and behavior. We feel it and the people around us know it. As human beings, we are capable of rationalizing anything we think or do, so having the perspective and accountability of others can keep us more closely tied to reality.
Becoming your best self as a leader can be a lifelong learning experience, but it starts with self-awareness and a commitment to show up consistently in all of your most important relationships.
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