Great Leaders Show And Tell

February 8, 2016 — Leave a comment

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In Alaska, rarely do we enjoy our outdoor activities alone. With harsh weather and remote areas where we like to play, getting hurt when you’re alone can be disastrous. Similarly, I’ve found that the best way to learn a new outdoor activity is by doing it for the first time with someone who is good at it, asking them to teach me and show me the ropes.

Most of my mountaineering skills I’ve learned from my friend, Doug. He’s taught me how to detect areas of avalanche danger. He’s shown me how to test the mountain snow. He’s shown me how to use probes and avalanche beacons. He’s taught me techniques for climbing steep inclines in deep snow. I now do things and go places that I would not go if Doug had not taught me and showed me how to go there safely.

The same is true for people who follow our leadership. Are you trying to create a certain culture where you lead? Most of us are. We want a culture where a certain pattern of behavior is the norm. To lead people into that pattern of behavior, we need to do two things for them. These apply whether we’re re-orienting a whole corporation or raising a family.

First we must tell those we’re leading where we’re going. This seems obvious, but leaders typically aren’t heard as much, or as clearly, as we think we are. We assume that if we’ve told someone something once, that’s enough. The truth is it’s not nearly enough. Particularly when it comes to casting vision for change, our people need to hear our message multiple times. When you start to get sick of repeating yourself, that’s when you can start to feel confident that you might be communicating the vision or direction enough. Sorry, but that’s how it works.

Second, we must show our people what we want the culture to look like. We must demonstrate the behaviors and practices that we expect to see from them. Remember, they can’t be what they can’t see.

Two Danger Zones

There are two danger zones that we need to avoid if we want to create a culture we dream of.

Tell, Don’t Show

The first danger zone is the Tell, Don’t Show Zone. We all know our actions speak louder than our words. So does our inaction. If the change doesn’t visibly begin with us, the value of the vision becomes suspect. People aren’t likely to follow you somewhere they can’t see you going. If we’re leading by example out of sight of our people, it’s like the tree falling in the woods when there’s no one around to hear it. To them, it’s like it didn’t happen. So think of ways to make your behavior changes viewable.

Show, Don’t Tell

The second danger zone is the Show, Don’t Tell Zone. We often make assumptions about how much people are noticing. So we wonder why our leading by example doesn’t seem to be working. Shouldn’t people be picking up on this? Most of the time, we need to be more explicit in talking about our expectations than we think we have been. Would you try to raise your kids without explaining your expectations to them, just expecting them to pick up on them from watching you? No way! Teaching someone how you want them to do something makes your expectations more clear and builds confidence that what you’re asking for is doable.

Show and Tell

The Show and Tell Zone is the sweet spot. This is where we repeat the cycle of explaining our exceptions, demonstrating what those expectations look like in view of our people, helping them act accordingly, observing, and giving clear feedback.

If we’re more intentional about both explaining what we want and what we’re doing, and more intentional about demonstrating what we expect in view of the people we’re expecting it from, we can be more satisfied with the effectiveness of the culture we’re trying to create.

For Discussion:

  • Are you visible enough to the people you’re leading that they can see you living out the culture you want for them? How can you increase your visibility?
  • Are you clear enough in your instructions and vision casting? Do you repeat you instructions often enough that everyone is clear? How can you increase your clarity? A written Leadership Philosophy is a great place to start.

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