Modeling Behavior and Integrity: Coaching, Mentoring, and Parenting

Conceptualizing “modeling” isn’t just about the act itself but the observance of others as well. 

Set the bar for what’s important

If you put off something you don’t enjoy, odds are others will follow suit. Others care about what you care about. If you don’t care about it, you won’t check on it. People will pick that up. Lead by example. Model what you want.

Delegate your beloved projects

How important then is that to delegate what you really love to do? If you delegate the things you love — what you really want to do — then won’t you follow up and measure progress? Your team, your directs, will know it is important to you and that it’s important to them. You are invested. You will check in — it won’t slip your mind or be drudgery. And sometimes that means you take on the dirty work yourself.

It also teaches your directs how to lead by example and be great managers. It’s time to break the cycle of bad managers. If you want change in your organization then you have to lead by example. 

Lead by example

Lead change by modeling the change you want, and ensure that change by measuring what you want. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t works. People deceive themselves thinking, “no one can really see this.” Whether politicians, CEOs, parents, or supervisors. If I believe no one can see my true nature, then I must think everyone around me is stupid (for the record, that’s not true). 

My kids are young and they can already see right through it. Even if they can’t cognitively identify and categorize it, they are mimicking that behavior. They’re in elementary school and they’re able to pick up on these (poor) behaviors. If my kids can do that, then how in the world could I ever think I could deceive adults? The same goes for you.

Let’s go through a few popular examples.

Sending late night/weekend emails

This is a very popular “do as I say, not as I do” which I still catch myself in. It’s tempting to pull out my phone or laptop to simply “check in” on something. While I’m there, I may as well reply.

That’s may be okay if that’s your company’s culture, but if you tell your employees “hey, I don’t expect you to work nights/weekends” and then you do it, you’re setting up a double standard. If you justify it because of your role, then you’re setting expectations for your role, which is what they’re likely seeking in career advancement!

Working while your kids (or spouse or dog or friend or…) are wanting your attention

Truthfully, there are times when we need to say “I need to work right now”. However, I believe those instances are a lot fewer than what we currently do. Second, we need to speak up. Ignoring is not fair. Especially for kids who can’t pick up on “silent treatment” or sarcasm as effectively as adults — or, heck, even just being perceptive — we need  to speak honestly and be willing to look the person in the eye. If we can’t do that, then we need to put the laptop and create a memory with other humans. 

So put away the laptop. Spend that evening with your family or friends. Read a book. Contemplate. Get your mind out of work. You’ll find not only do you set a good standard and are refreshed the next day, but that you’re strengthening your own will power by leaving alone that gadget.

“Catching up” on [task name] while [insert just about anything here]

  1. Reading email while at the dinner table
  2. Instant messaging someone while in a conversation with another person 
  3. “Wrapping up” XYZ project while at a restaurant with friend, movie, or somewhere where you are with people

Email is important. Responding quickly is necessary. Without it (or with slow responses) it really slows projects and makes initiatives crawl. But there are still costs.

These activities frequently send several signals:

  1. We optimize for email and instant messaging, not personal interaction
  2. Especially around kids, our devices are more important than they are
  3. You’re a big shot when a device constantly pings you and demands your attention (the undertone becomes “sorry, I need to respond to this — I am important”)
  4. We believe that without our work, input, or dedicated, everything will crumble — we cannot let go because our identity has become our work

These are fuel that helps drive further, but it is a dirty fuel. It will pollute your life and be bad for you long term.

These all have happened to me. These all have happened to others. We have witnessed all of these (and more). Being so enamored and enraptured by our own work is a dangerous game. It’s unhealthy, short-term. It may be masked today, but doing it sows seeds that we’ll reap in years or decades. 

The fastest way home was in the complete opposite direction

After the 4th of July this year we took a new way home. In the past, the fireworks would end somewhere between 9:50-10:10pm and I wouldn’t get home till 11-11:30pm. With two small kids in the back, I was pretty frustrated by the end. Just sitting in traffic, breathing fumes, no one is moving, and the kids are cranky and whining. Perfect.

This time I parked in the same spot, but, to go home, I went in the opposite direction. I went out of my way to go the “wrong way”. Turns out, the fireworks ended about 9:50pm and we were home by 10:10pm. Pretty remarkable! Happy ending.

As I was driving home feeling very happy, I couldn’t help but reflect on how this is a metaphor for life. In order to get where we need to go, we often need to take several steps in the “wrong” direction to get where we want to go. This is easily seen in business (at least for me) when you need to rebuild, start from scratch, wipe the slate and begin anew. It’s tough. You invested so much in that first project, that product, that team, that philosophy or ideal…and yet. And yet the best thing for the overall mission is ditching it and starting over. Sometimes in the wrong direction.

So next time you feel like everything is going terribly wrong, or you can’t catch a break, or that the workload is insurmountable, ask yourself, “what do I gain by continuing the path I’m on?” 

If you’re feeling stuck, if you’re in a position where the only way out is working more hours, if you don’t have the right team and you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, if your systems are failing or aren’t enough…then call a time out. Why continue to slam your head against a brick wall? Why?Because it’s easier than the alternative. Working more hours, doing the same thing, or throwing more resources at the problem is simply easier than facing the real issue. If the issue is personnel, it’s easier to leave that alone rather than having the difficult conversation (or firing them). If the issue is rebuilding the framework, that will require a HUGE investment and delay so many other projects that you’ve pressured yourself to ship on time. 

You have a sunk cost bias on whatever it is that you’ve invested in and you will struggle to let that go. The best thing you can do for yourself is let it go, drop it, and move on. You may feel shame because you feel like you “gave up”. To hit our overarching goal, sometimes the faster way home is starting in the complete opposite direction.

Praying for humility

 Have you ever wished that you were more humble? I have. It’s not a pretty ending.

I have a friend who wished for humility and soon after he got his car totaled, lost some things, and more bad things happened. His wife was understandably pretty upset with him as she relayed the story to me, with him in the room!

I’ve been reading the book Antifragile and been thinking, “I should become more anti-fragile.“ Well, that’s pretty much like wishing or praying for humility. You get what you asked for but it’s not fun. 

You wish you could learn it from watching Netflix rather than experiencing it. Yet it’s that very hard lesson that teaches us so much that it sinks deep into our core. Many of our memories fade. These lessons stick. Cherish these bitter tasting events as they guide you. Be grateful you failed because it made you stronger. 

Rollercoasters, Boredom, and Foie Gras Sandwiches

I wrote this post last summer, but have been holding onto it. I finally am ready to hit publish.

A couple years back I watched a travel channel/food network show one time with Canadian chefs who want to do fine dining and create an elaborate experience, but created a foie gras sandwich because that’s what the young market demanded. Essentially, the original was insufficient. It does exist and it’s in Montreal. It’s served at Joe Beef and is called the Foie Gras Double Down Sandwich, in case you were wondering.

In a similar way, technology is addicting. We are glued to social media, news, TV, Netflix, and so much more. I had to pull myself away from an article that didn’t matter to my life to watch my darling daughter play with a toy and simply relish that moment. My attention was attached to the wrong thing.

When was the last time you had the willpower to put down your computer, set your tablet aside, leave your phone, disconnect your watch, and any other items of technology and simply be? Were you too afraid because you were “disconnected” and all you had were your thoughts? When will enough technology be enough for us? If Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat and others aren’t enough, what is the right number? If we need more devices (phones, tablets, watches, bluetooth speakers…), then when will it be enough?

Now is probably a good time to share that I love technology; I am no technophobe. I have many devices at home and allow my kids to watch TV and play games. But I also see the inherent dangers and the relational damage caused by it. 

There’s a reason the Catholic Church and other religions have called gluttony a sin. It’s not merely to protect our bodies (flesh), but to protect our lives (relationships and souls). We can binge on food, TV, work, and more — it’s not exclusively food that weakens our willpower. As we use food and other things as a distraction, what becomes of our souls?

Screens are a contraceptive to boredom. We’re afraid of our own thoughts, of the silence that may ensue. And yet…and yet that’s exactly what we need…to get off the rollercoaster because we cannot keep riding forever. 

Can we get off, to rest, to reflect, and to be grateful for the lives we’ve been given? How long can we keep binging?

Stealing ideas and original ideas

I reread the post Your First Thought Is Rarely Your Best Thought: Lessons on Thinking by Farnam Street and, upon reflection, thought about Lincoln Murphy’s open complaint about how people are stealing his material (you can substitute “Lincoln Murphy” for just about anyone as ideas are stolen or “borrowed” all the time). Aside from the hucksters who do it maliciously, why do we steal ideas? 

Could it be that our first idea was not so great? Could it be that we could not come up with something better? Maybe it’s because he or she has got it all figured out and there’s really nothing else to add. If a speaker, coach, or pundit is 100% correct, then what incremental improvement will I find down the road? 

So why do we steal? I think it’s because our best ideas require more effort and it’s easier to grab someone else’s lunch from the fridge than it is to get our own. We know Tom usually brings a good lunch and we are pretty sure he won’t need it because he’s scheduled to go out today. So it’s fine. It’s easier to take than to create.

Or take deadlines. If I have a deadline to write a college paper, save an account, or win an election, I’m under a lot of pressure. It’s far easier to take what’s already proven. Besides, it’s more like “borrowing” anyways. So we justify it. I’m tired, it’s the end of a long week of travel and I want the easy way out. 

Another possibility is since childhood we were taught not necessarily to be creative, but follow a form. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That English paper or math question taught us the building blocks of how it’s put together. So we disassemble and reassemble over and over. We learn structures, but not originality.

It’s easier to steal what works than to risk investing in something that may flop. This starts out with our thinking. We’re afraid to invest in thinking. As Shane says in the linked article above, “a lot of people see thinking more than a few minutes as a waste of time…” 
If we don’t explicitly see the return on investment, we usually scrap the idea. The same is true for thinking. Thus, we limit our investment in thinking. That habit leads us to steal from others rather than create because we lack the research and development. We don’t fully understand the nuances and components, so we source ideas from others.