When I was six and my brother Mike was four, one of our favorite pastimes was rolling and smoking cigarettes. Why not? We’d watched our father do it. In fact, we watched hundreds of people do it—on their way out of church on Sunday, on the sidewalks in town, at the Easter Egg Hunt in the park. We watched famous actors parade across Grandma’s black and white television set do it. People everywhere seemed to be doing it and, for some, the very act of smoking was taken to an art form.
Take, for example, old time actor David Niven. He’d sit, legs crossed, chin tilted slightly upward, his handsome face in full view of the camera’s eye. Then, with cigarette in hand poised on top of his knee, he would slowly, gracefully, bring the cigarette to his lips and draw in a long, deep breath, savoring the moment like a connoisseur savoring fine wine before exhaling with equal enjoyment.
Smoking looked pleasurable and grown-up, and my brother Mike and I wanted to experience it—kid’s style. We scouted out some notebook paper, cut the paper into three horizontal strips and cut each of those in half. One page was enough for six cigarettes. We’d then wrap each paper around a pencil and tape it. We’d slide the paper roll off the pencil and PRESTO! We had our own cigarette.
Sitting on the back step of our house in the country, Mike and I were ready – he with cigarette in hand and I with the scissors in mine. He’d put the cigarette to his lips, draw in a deep, full breath just as we’d seen so many adults do, and blow out the invisible smoke. Each time he’d inhale, I’d take my scissors and SNIP, SNIP and off would fall the make-believe ash. Over and over we’d repeat the process until the cigarette became increasingly short and would need to be snuffed out.
One afternoon as we sat smoking on the back step, Mike drew in an exceptionally long breath. Being an experienced cigarette snipper, I knew that that meant that the ash on the end of the cigarette must have grown exceedingly long. My next SNIP had to take more than usual. Up went my scissors. This time a BIG SNIP!
Mike screamed. Blood spurted profusely from his slashed lip. My mother came running. More than ash had been removed. A total of twenty four stitches were required to stop the bleeding.
Today my brother sports a mustache to cover the scar, a constant reminder of an attempt to fashion ourselves after the adults in our lives.
As we work in organizations across the country, the power of example is clear. Whether kids or grown-ups, the tendency is for people to take their cues from the leaders in the organization. Not so much from what they say, but rather what they do.
A classic example of one who led by example is Mahatma Gandhi who proved, through a life lived in accordance with what he preached, that nonviolent resistance was the most successful way to protest injustice. Because his life exemplified his espoused beliefs, he was able to garner the support of millions of his countrymen and lead them to freedom from British rule. Gandhi was able to change the world because he lived what he preached.
As a leader in your organization, here are some questions to ponder:
1) Are you willing to do what you ask others to do? Talk is cheap; a picture is worth a thousand words.
2) Do you abide by the rules you set for others? Anything less breeds mistrust within the organization.
3) When you think about what you expect from the people who work for you, can you honestly say that you are faithful in upholding your own expressed standards of behavior? Any disconnect will cause your message to fall on deaf ears.
Leadership behavior drives corporate culture. If you do not like the culture, it might be time for a check-up on leadership behavior.