I was listening to the free CD this morning that comes with each issue of Success Magazine. Part of the CD was an interview with John Maxwell about his most recent book, The 5 Levels of Leadership. During the interview John said something that has stayed with me, tickling the back corners of my brain all morning. He said, “We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.”
I’ve been thinking about this not only in terms of leadership, but also as it relates to our educational systems, parenting and relationships in general. Think of a time in your life where you invested in someone by sharing with them what you know; your wisdom, your knowledge and your life experiences. If you had ongoing access to this individual, you probably hoped that their future behavior would be influenced by your teachings. But according to John Maxwell, that may not be the case, especially if your teachings are not in alignment with who you are and how you behave.
It brings to mind a manager I worked with many years ago. She was a very nice woman, in fact, that was usually the way people described her. She got along with everyone and because she was a seasoned manager, she often supervised and mentored younger managers who were just starting out in their career. She spent hours with them sharing her experiences and words of advice. I was often around her when she’d impart one of her leadership nuggets and the words were perfect, almost like she was reading them right out of a leadership handbook. Her advice to them was to be assertive, confident and strong, encouraging her eager listeners to take risks and make something happen. The problem was, that was not who she was as a leader.
Her leadership style was actually passive, laid-back, and accommodating. She earned her reputation as a nice person in part, by allowing performance issues to continue unaddressed, by stopping short of delivering directed and honest feedback, and by never pushing people to work harder than they already were. While she knew exactly what a great leader should do, she fell short in the actual execution of her teachings. As a result, her management team followed who she was rather than what she said. The department appeared to function well on the surface, but failed to exceed goals or expectations, always played it safe, and the individuals she managed never lived up to their full potential.
Her words and her behaviors were not in alignment and she was totally unaware that there was this disconnect. Because she was such a nice person, none of her staff or her peers wanted to give her feedback that she could be a more effective leader. They didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Her managers never addressed the issue because there were more urgent problems that demanded their attention, and in the end, she was achieving her goals.
We reproduce what we are, and I believe this philosophy is true for anyone who is in a position to influence others on a consistent basis. Whether you a leader in an organization, teacher, parent, mentor, or big sister/brother, people will be more influenced over the long-term by what you do rather than by what you say.
So time for a gut check…look around you at the people you are hoping to positively influence in your work and your personal life. Are they where you want them to be? If they are truly a reflection of you, what do you need to change in order to positively alter their behavior?
I would love to hear about any of your success stories or challenges, so please leave a comment.