They’re Watching You

Picture of a businesswoman seated in an office chair with her hands behind he head.  “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it for a parent or a leader.

At the start of my career, I worked in an applied research group at Brown University. Our director frequently travelled to raise funding, always sharing great stories when he got back. Once, on a visit Microsoft, he attended a meeting where everyone leaned back from the conference room table, folding their hands behind their heads. It was a bit odd. Afterwards, he asked his host why everyone sat like that, and the answer was that Bill Gates (who was still the CEO at the time) tended to sit that way. Other Microsoft employees, without realizing it, mimicked his behavior.

Years later, I retold this story to a co-worker who had started cutting people off in meetings. As I gave him feedback about it, I told him that his team was starting to do the same thing. I then shared the Microsoft story with him to illustrate how easily habits can rub off on people. I asked him, “How are you going to feel if your entire team starts acting like you in meetings?” It was an “aha” moment for him. He saw the impact he could have in shaping the culture of our meetings, and he wanted them to be inclusive, not antagonistic.

My husband and I have noticed that our teens are picking up our habits. Most I’m thrilled with — things like manners, healthy eating, and a strong work ethic. But, then there are ones I’m embarrassed to admit. Like retreating to different rooms to watch TV shows streamed to individual tablet computers, our earbuds providing an even greater level of disconnect from the rest of the family. Like being overly competitive when playing board games.

It can be overwhelming to realize that employees and kids could be watching your every move, and consciously or sub-concisously deciding to mimic you. If they respect you, they’re going to pick up some of your habits. You need to be a good role model, 24×7. After all, “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it for a parent or a leader.

I’m looking for ideas for how to handle situations when people pick up your bad habits. If you have advice, please share it in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you.


© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

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