Changing behavior to improve ourselves can be as difficult as dieting. We've all practiced habit breaking routines. We start with enthusiasm. Then falter "just once." Soon, it's "maybe another." And before we know it, we give up.
Luckily, by boosting awareness and copying a few behaviors practiced by great leaders, we can score significant personal improvements.
Focus on Behaviors, Not Values
Many believe integrity is the foundation for great leadership. While that may be true, there is a catch: all of us believe we have integrity. It's one of those little human quirks.
When I spoke at a recent forum on Awakened Consciousness and the Evolution of Business, I asked two teams to list "what's inside other people's heads." Items included: Ideas, Biases, Opinions, Hopes, Memories, Goals, Values, Fears, and Beliefs.
- These are universal; all humans store all of these in their brains.
- But what is inside each category of ideas, opinions, etc. is completely different for each individual.
- Everyone's reality is a little different.
- All of these are buried in someone else's head and are invisible to the rest of us.
When it comes to human relationships, the last bullet point is crucial. The values housed inside our heads are quite visible to us but are totally invisible to others. Outsiders are left to observe our behaviors and deduce our values from them. When it comes to other people's perceptions of us, our behaviors are crucial.
Practice Simple Best Boss Behaviors
As part of a leadership study, I collected employee ratings and descriptors on eight thousand bosses. Employees described their best bosses as honest, sharing, positive, and trustworthy, along with other positive attributes such as "has integrity."
The descriptors were accurate but fuzzy. If others can't see my positivity or my integrity like I do, how should I behave to show it to them? The answer came through storytelling.
Over two hundred employees told me stories about their best bosses. In each case, they described a boss's behavior that positively affected them, and I organized the behaviors into four categories.
Interestingly, the behaviors mirrored 1) current leadership best practices, 2) emotional intelligence theory, and 3) the way our grandmothers told us to act. The categories sound like clichés until we look at the specific behaviors described within. These leadership behaviors, can be applied in everyday life and practiced daily, provide a roadmap to better ourselves.
This involves acknowledging people. In one story, Carol told me about her previous boss, Lester, who strode past employees every morning with his brow furrowed and head down.
Carol was an experienced coach and a gifted feedback giver. She broke the news:
Carol: "They think you're mad at them."
Carol: "The employees. They think you are mad, because you don't say 'hello,' and you don't smile."
Lester: After some stammering, "You know, I do that. I'm actually a bit of an introvert."
Carol: "But your employees misinterpret that as disinterest or even anger."
Lester began smiling and pushed himself to say "Good morning." After that, his unit scored well in employee surveys. There were numerous reasons for the higher rankings, but I like to think Lester's behavioral change helped.
This uses the Law of Reciprocity found in psychology and anthropology. For instance, share your expertise and knowledge with others to build trust. It's not the gift that builds trust, but the consistency of giving and helping others.
I observed one fast food manager, Rene, as he regularly rolled up his sleeves to help his crew. Every day, he gave helpful advice and recognition. His employees reciprocated with loyalty, hard work, and respect.
I asked him about the secret to good leadership. He answered, "I like to make more deposits than withdrawals." It was a concise behavioral guide to building trust.
The best boss stories underscored the fact that when appropriate, great leaders will invite employees into decision-making and planning. Having a piece of the pie motivates us, because it gives us a sense of control over our work. This same sharing principle applies to daily life.
Whenever possible, include others. Invite participation.
Meetings and e-mails often swamp this principle, because it requires personal two-way communications. Employees described their best bosses as great listeners. None of the four behaviors take long to do - this one can be as quick as a hallway conversation.
The behaviors overlap. An "Attaboy" or "Attagirl" is a connection, but it is also a gift.
Acknowledging others as we come into the office is an example of a connection and also a signal that we value them. Whenever you are in doubt about any of the behaviors, just ask, "What would my best boss do?"
Becoming a better leader or person really is this simple, but carrying it out is devilishly difficult--remember the dieting example? The behaviors may be simple but difficult because of our varying degrees of self-awareness, distraction, and the gravitational pull of habit.
Have you ever noticed that everything on your to-do list involves administration and busy work? There is nothing spelled out on your list to improve relationships. One way to bypass the gravity of distraction and habit is to place a few of these simple behaviors on your daily to-do list. It's just like recording what you eat to get better diet results. Be specific: "Say hello to Jessica." Fill in the template below to start your journey to become an even better person.
Performing the behaviors and then scratching them off the list gives you a refreshing jolt of dopamine, that brain chemical controlling pleasure and pain. But there is much more. Practice a few every day to build safety and trust with others and you've made the world a better place.
Great Boss Behaviors
- Behavior: Value Others
- Behavior: Give (Law of Reciprocity)
- Behavior: Invite Participation
- Behavior: Connect (Deep Communication)
The International Forum on Consciousness is an annual two-day event that explores a different--and often challenging--topic related to consciousness. For more information, please visit https://www.btci.org/consciousness/.