Nobody likes to be told what to do, but give them a positive example, and you might be surprised at the results.
Consider this social experiment conducted by author Daniel Pink for his TV show Crowd Control , as reported on the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree . Pink and his team painted two lanes on a sidewalk, one for people talking on their cell phones, the other for non-cell-phone users. Then he positioned actors as “lane guides” that told people where to walk, based on their cell phone usage. You can probably imagine how well that went over: not very. People were highly resistant to being told where to walk. A simple change up in the process had a shocking result: when the actors simply posed as “regular people” and walked in the “correct” lanes based on their cell phone usage, people fell in line and begin following the arbitrary sidewalk rules. Pinks’ analysis: if you model the way, people will often follow.
Of course, “model the way” isn’t new. It’s one of Kouzes and Posner’s five leadership practices as outlined in their book The Leadership Challenge. We all know that being a leader requires being a role model, right? Then why do we still have so many managers demonstrating behaviors that are counter to positive values they espouse?
I think there’s a sort of trickle-down effect. People enact what they know. It’s the old “monkey see, monkey do” effect. So, the “people equation” of newly promoted managers looks something like this:
Watching a bad manager before you get promoted = acting like a bad manager when you become one yourself
The reverse is true as well: if you learned early in your career from a manager who modeled mostly positive traits, you are more likely to carry those practices forward. While there’s certainly something to be said for learning from a bad manager, those “non-examples” must be balanced out with positive role models. Or else the cycle just perpetuates itself.
If you aspire to a leadership role and are in the unfortunate situation of being surrounding by “bad actor” leaders, be sure to seek out more positive role models. Just because you see them behaving badly doesn’t mean you have to do so as well.