The Lost Secret of Leadership
You are a leader. You’re a leader in your home, at work, in your community, and most important of all, the leader of your own life.
But are you the best leader you can be?
There are many attributes to great leadership. I believe the most important one by far is the lost art of ‘modeling’. It’s a lost art because so many of the good models have disappeared.
Author and prolific TED talker, Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, and his most recent, Leaders Eat Last, says the following about ‘modeling’ without ever using the word, but illustrating it lavishly.
Leaders are the ones who run headfirst into the unknown.
They rush toward danger.
They put their own interests aside to protect us or to pull us into the future.
Leaders would sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours.
And they would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs.
And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly, to see their visions come to life, and proudly call ourselves their followers.
Have you ever had a leader like that?
I think it’s time to raise the battle cry and call out to a new generation of men and women to strive to be models of exemplary conduct.
The problem in our industries and communities is that many supervisors and leaders are not living out the very things they are asking others to do. There is no congruence between what the boss says and what they do. This causes untold pain in a work atmosphere. It does the same in a home.
We can do better.
If you were blessed to grow up in an environment of encouragement, start counting your blessings. Unfortunately, the reality is that many of you began life under less than ideal circumstances. Perhaps broken homes, absentee parents, crumbling ethical world, all of these and more, factor into the making of a human being, for better or worse. You didn’t have leaders—parents, teachers, employers—like Sinek describes. You didn’t have a ‘model’ to trace your life on.
So if this was your lot, how do you go about changing? You can sit around and do what my coach calls ‘wallow’ about your lot in life, but eventually you have to ‘swallow’, because nobody really cares. Really. Sad to say, but unless you care enough about your situation to improve it, it’s going to be a miserable life.
But if you want to move on, one of the best places to start moving is to find a model.
The late Albert Bandura who pioneered social learning theory in the 60s and 70s said,
“Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” – Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory, 1977.
In case you rushed through that last paragraph, read it again slowly, especially this sentence, “Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for actions.” There is hope if you lacked good modeling.
This seems to concur with Albert Schweitzer’s adage, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing”.
Perhaps an overstatement but not too far from the truth.
If you have a purpose or dream or mission in life, it goes without saying that you will not get anywhere without a ‘role model’, someone who has gone ahead of you.
Can we agree that ‘models’ have gone missing and that you are willing to rise up to the challenge of becoming one of ‘those’ for someone, and also committing to finding a model of someone you can follow to improve your life radically?
Another word for ‘model’ is ‘pattern’. Have you noticed that when someone sews up clothes, they use a ‘pattern’? Why? Because using a pattern shortens the process. It saves time. It prevents mistakes. It makes the task look easier. There are some amazing things that happen in your life when you choose the right pattern or model.
I would suggest that one of the best ways to achieve your goals is to find a model whose already achieved what you want– financially, spiritually, and relationally. Find someone who is where you want to be and then set about figuring out how they got there. That is the quickest way to learn. Study. Go on active search mode.
Have you noticed how babies learn most things? They learn by copying. I go work in my garden, and water my plants, and without me providing any instruction, pretty soon, my grandson is walking along, stumbling with his little pail of water, to water my tomato plants. Does he drip water? Does he miss the plant by a country mile? Yes, but who cares, he’s getting the right idea.
If it’s true that we learn the most by copying and modeling, then the challenge is choosing your models.
If you were blessed to have someone who had great habits and was success oriented in your life, then you probably grew up to be a high achiever. On the other hand, if you saw negative behavior modeled you may have innocently become a negative, fault finding person.
As a child you didn’t know what was right or wrong. You just had these people in your life, and in many cases, they said, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.”
If you grew up as I did watching people ‘explode’ with their anger, you may have grown up with a temper. This happened to me. All through my young adult years and into the early part of my marriage, I struggled with managing my outbursts of anger. It took some coaching to discover that I had come by this innocently. What was encouraging was that just as I learned this by copying, I could relearn new patterns. I am a work in progress but surrounding myself with healthy models of anger expression has fueled my desire to manage and express my anger in constructive ways.
If you grew up being shamed and being a fault finder, it shouldn’t surprise you that you walk around in your daily life shaming the people you love the most and work with. There is hope. Find a new model.
How do we find a model? There’s two ways: The indirect method; and direct method.
The indirect is through the plethora of self help resources available to us today in all kinds of ways—audio programs, books, and reading biographies of people who overcame their ‘issues’ to achieve greatness. For example, as I move on in life one of my goals is to become a more teachable and coachable person. I suffer from having ‘china doll feelings. ‘ At the sound of the slightest criticism I used to get my back up and I would ultimately be the loser. My own coach has helped me overcome my fear of feedback by having me read the book Thanks for the Feedback, as well as exploring some of the reasons why I get my back up. I am growing.
There’s also the direct method of having a specific person in your life. I have had a few of these in my life. First as a teacher, then as a pastor, and now as a life and leadership coach. I am always looking for healthy models in areas I am aspiring to be great in.
One of the greatest benefits of having models is that they inspire us to crash through self imposed limitations. For years it was known that no human being could break the 4 minute mile running record. But in 1954, Roger Bannister broke that barrier, and right after him 1000s of people started to break it. That’s what a model can do for you. Help you crash through self imposed barriers.
You and I need models. Who are your models today? Who are the people who inspire you? Who could you get close enough to, to learn from?
Don’t let your ego get in the way of transforming your life. A lack of humility and over-exaggerated sense of self importance is the only reason to not make others our models.
When my kids were young, I was obsessed with being the best dad I could be. I am still obsessed with this value although now they are in their 30s, and my hope is that they will make being great role models their ambition, and that they will never stop seeking out models that will inspire them to achieve greatness in the areas of life that matter to them.
I memorized the following poem 30 plus years ago. It still resonates with me today. It’s a daily reminder that your attitudes and actions set an example for everyone around us.
Little Eyes Upon You
There are little eyes upon you and they’re watching night and day.
There are little ears that quickly take in every word you say.
There are little hands all eager to do anything you do;
And a little boy who’s dreaming of the day he’ll be like you.
You’re the little fellow’s idol, you’re the wisest of the wise.
In his little mind about you no suspicions ever rise.
He believes in you devoutly, holds all you say and do;
He will say and do, in your way when he’s grown up just like you.
There’s a wide-eyed little fellow who believes you’re always right; and his eyes are always opened,
and he watches day and night.
You are setting an example every day in all you do;
For the little boy who’s waiting to grow up to be just like you
– Author Unknown