Imitation of Leadership

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Mike Camp

I always enjoy finding situations in my personal life where a teachable moment can be translated into leadership lessons I can share with those around me. The other day I was working in my garage on a project, along with my five-year-old daughter, when something strange happened. My daughter was attempting to build a toy train for her little brother and the pieces wouldn’t fit together. After a few attempts, she slammed the pieces down and uttered a few words that absolutely took me by surprise…. She exclaimed, "Come on, really?"

I don’t think I have ever realized the impact my actions and words could have on other people until I became a father; even as a soldier in the military or a leader in the workplace. When I heard those words, I immediately thought of the things I say and do sometimes when I get frustrated. My daughter acted and sounded just like me. I took a moment to decide what I was going to say. Then we discussed how my daughter could better handle issues when she becomes frustrated. Although I too have made poor choices at times when dealing with frustrations, which obviously affected the way she handles stress, I knew this had to become a teachable moment. After our conversation, I had to take a serious look at how I handled frustrating situations at home to ensure this behavior was corrected right away.

We have all heard how children are imitators of those around them and what they see and hear help create their personality. Think back to your childhood and some of the behaviors of your parents. Have some of their negative traits become your negative traits as well? Unfortunately, we may have heard a certain behavior is not acceptable, but if we continuously observed this behavior from our parents, it could have made a lasting impression.

As a parent, how many times have you said or heard, "Do as I say, not as I do." Unfortunately, most of us have heard or said this at least once in our lives. The major problem with this phrase is that children, as well as adults, learn more by the actions of others than by words alone. This reminds me of the old saying, "His bark is worse than his bite." When people hear your words, but observe completely different actions, your words suddenly lose their effectiveness.

Just hearing my daughter utter those three simple words got me to thinking how my words and actions as a leader can impact the careers of others. Throughout my leadership career over the past fourteen years, I have influenced thousands of people. In the beginning, while learning to become a leader, I assumed the influence wasn’t very positive. If we truly want to become positive influencers, we must, as leaders, take a serious look to determine if our actions back up our messages. If you communicate your expectations but your actions don’t support that message, the people around you will begin to focus on your actions and not your message. Having a lack of focus on your message can become detrimental to the success of your team.

Hopefully, as I have developed over time, I have begun to model leadership behavior that I wouldn’t mind if others imitated. As Servant Leaders, we must lead by example. In doing so, we must ensure our words and actions align to the same message. Let’s face it; our teams are watching our actions just as much as they are listening to our words. Without clarity in our communication (both verbal and nonverbal) our success will be severely limited and we will negatively impact the lives of those around us at the same time. Coach Tony Dungy once said, "Demonstrate who you want them to be, and that’s who they will most likely become. Actions speak louder than words. The most effective lessons you teach are the ones you live before others, especially your children." This message can be applied to the people whom we are fortunate to lead in the workplace, as well.

"When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other." – Eric Hoffer