I visited a Starbucks the other day. It's not something I do a lot but I was on my way to work with a client and thought I would grab a cup of coffee for my ride. I chose to use the drive through window and as I pulled up to pay for my coffee the young lady working the drive through told me that there was no charge, the person in front of me had paid for my coffee already. What?? I was stunned for a moment as I tried to comprehend this. I would never be able to thank the person in front of me I had never even met the person in front of me and yet they had bought my coffee. What was really interesting to me was that they knew when they did it they would never be thanked and that the favor would in all likelihood never be returned, at least by me. I immediately thought this was an amazingly genuine gesture and I wanted to be part of it, so I paid for the person behind me. The young lady at the window smiled and said "that's three in a row, pretty cool".
In my work with leaders and managers, I sometimes hear that we can't change the behavior of others. While that's essentially correct (they have to change it themselves), we can help them decide to make the change in the first place. I woke up from what were habitual actions - paying for my coffee, driving, listening to the radio - and decided to do something different than I normally would have. I changed my behavior because of the actions of someone else. Every day, as we work to lead groups, teams, businesses or even ourselves, our task as leaders is to cause those kinds of changes.
Virtually everything we humans do is a reaction to what others around us do. We have far more power to lead others than we think. Candidly, we humans sometimes use that power for evil, but as leaders we have to focus on how we use it to drive positive change in our business and help others accomplish more. Everything we do with our clients or our team will have an impact. By choosing our action, we also get to choose the impact.
I was working with a leader who felt like all he did during the day was solve problems for people in his business. And truthfully that's exactly what he did because he had unknowingly trained people to believe that he was the problem solver, the boss, the person with the answers. As we worked to help him shift those reactions he began asking questions like "what do you think the best solution would be?" and "who else have you talked to about the best way to address this?" and "what have you done so far to fix the problem?" He woke up from his habit of just giving the answer and consciously decided to take an action that would cause others to react differently. Over a short period of time, people began solving more problems themselves and the leader was able to focus on how his business needed to improve, change and grow.
What do you do, because it’s a habit or an ingrained way of operating, that causes people to respond to you they way they do? How will you change it to cause people to engage, innovate, take accountability and become more capable? If you are leading a business few things matter more than the actions of the people who work there. Sometimes you have to wake them up and buy them a cup of coffee.
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