Who’s Under Your Influence?

With my children as well as with our staff, interns and volunteers I find that I learn more about the quality of my leadership each time I have the opportunity to be around them.

I am talking about seeing the way they carry themselves, their developed habits and mannerisms; I’m talking about an in your face daily review of my leadership…sometimes the review is good and sometimes it makes me angry at myself.  They give me better feedback than any consultant could without ever saying a direct or conscious word about it…it’s pretty cool.

Take my son for example.  This weekend we were sitting watching one of his favorite cartoons and as he is sitting there I see out of the corner of my eye that he is sitting the exact same way as I am; arms crossed with legs out straight.  Later that evening my son randomly tells my wife and I that he is going to work tomorrow to help people exercise…he was copying me and giving me feedback on what I have been teaching him and how I have been acting.

These two moments over the weekend struck me.  Not because I like my son being like me…in fact there are many things I hope he does very differently than me.  Rather, I was blown away by the impact I was having on another human without even knowing it AND that he was showing me how and what I was teaching him without him even knowing it.

Pretty wild stuff if you take the time to notice it.

As you go to work and interact with clients and co-workers or while you are at home with your family and friends are you aware of what you are telling and/or showing people without even realizing it?  Our mannerisms, gut reactions, body language and habits tell a story about who we are, what we believe to be important and how we relate and think about others…and most happen without us even saying a word.

I have read a number of great management books which speak to this fact.  If the boss is wearing a suit, others below them tend to dress nicely.  If the boss is wearing a Hawaiian shirt, those below in rank will usually follow.  The point the authors are trying to make is that when you are in a position of influence, someone is always watching your every move and making assumptions which feed their perceptions.

Influence can be from a position of authority as in a boss or parent, a position of respect such as a clinician to a client, a position of admiration as is the case with so many of our Hollywood stars and sports stars.   Regardless of what the position is, if you are in it, you have a responsibility to know that you are in it and behave accordingly…even when you don’t feel like it.  If you don’t, that’s your fault, no one else’s.  And that is often the hardest pill ever to swallow.

As a father, when my son pushes my patience way past my limits I make a conscience effort to demonstrate to him the way that I want him to handle frustration and anger.  I don’t yell, hit or make a scene.  Instead, I talk to him respectfully and try to help him through whatever his issue is no matter how much I would rather yell.  Doing this consistently I am able to model to him what I think is proper behavior and handling of frustration.

If you are the owner of a business and you don’t care about your staff buying in to what you are doing and/or selling, show up late, treat them like crap, don’t shave, don’t care about how you dress and leave early.  Perception is everything and can you guess what the morale and work ethic is like in that business just described?

As a business owner, sometimes I leave the office early and sometimes I come in later.  Now I usually am working another 3-6 hours when not at the office and average 3-4 more hours of work than each of my staff but they don’t see that.  They only see me leaving early or coming in late and probably sometimes think “man, I wish I could do that.”

It doesn’t matter that I am actually working more than all of them and in fact they wouldn’t really want to switch with me and my responsibilities.  What matters is what they perceive.  This is a critical point for all of you who want to be a boss or in a position of influence.  It doesn’t matter what is actually happening when it comes to motivating staff or others…all that matters is their perception.  Perception is everything…literally.

I make sure that I am the one working the hardest and that even when I could do my job from home at some points, I stay at the office so that my staff is not left feeling like they are here before and after me.  My staff knows that I am working just as hard as them, longer hours and even cleaning the bathrooms with them.  Their perception of me being on the ground with them helps my business have a staff that buys in.  That perception doesn’t happen by chance.  It is on my mind with everything we do, because if that perception changes to something less desirable my business is in trouble.

Being in a position of influence is not a right, it is a privilege and means that you must lead by example, especially when you don’t feel like it.

If you are going to be successful as a parent, business owner or coach you need to ask yourself one question.

Do you understand the gravity of and accept the responsibility of your influence?

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