People are Watching

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The job of a leader is influencing the behavior of others using the tools he or she has available. Your most powerful tool is the example you set for your people. One of my leadership role models, Captain James W. Ayers put it this way: "There is no leadership without leadership by example. Your only choice is the example you set.

The people who work for you watch you carefully. They pay attention to the things you pay attention to. They will be as ethical or not as you are. What you notice and reward, they will value.

Make sure that your walk and your talk send the same message. The folks who work for you will know in heartbeat if what you do and what you say don't match up.

Consider your actions. Consider their impact.

Shelly Lazarus is Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide Chairman. Because she's the boss, she's also a role model. She didn't get any choice about that. Neither do you.

Ms Lazarus is not entirely comfortable with being a role model, but she takes it seriously. She works consciously to make sure her actions and her words match up. Here's how she sets the example for her people.

"I know that work-family balance is important … I choose always to go to the school play, and field day and all that [because] it gives other women in the company, or clients, the confidence to be able to say, 'I'm going, too.'"

It's not always easy to be the role model for everyone. But if you're the boss, that's part of the job.

Boss's Bottom Line

You don't have any choice about whether you're a role model for your people. But you do have a choice about what kind of behavior you model.


Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit is a collection of information and tools to help working supervisors do a better job. It's based on what Wally's learned in over twenty years of supervisory skills training. Click here to check it out.



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  • 11/15/2010 11:05 AM Kirk Hunt wrote:
    Like any core truth, this one is just that easy. And just that hard. Bravo for saying it so well.
    Reply to this
    1. 11/15/2010 11:49 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks, Kirk. As someone far wiser than me said, "There are a lot of things in life that are simple, but not easy."

      Reply to this
  • 11/15/2010 1:36 PM Tanmay Vora wrote:
    Very well said Wally - in my view, the most powerful way to set right example is to consistently demonstrate congruence between thoughts, words and deeds. People constantly look for clues in each interaction, decision and action of a leader.

    I often tell my own team members to practice this congruence, because irrespective of whether we lead people or not, we are all being watched by others. We set precedence through our actions, and it is our responsibility as a professional to make sure that we set the right one!

    Reply to this
    1. 11/15/2010 2:01 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Well said, yourself, Tanmay. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

      Reply to this
  • 11/15/2010 2:53 PM Miki Saxon wrote:
    While I don't disagree with anything in your post, I find "it gives other women in the company, or clients," a sad comment.

    Why is it that "work-life" balance and attending kids' events is for moms and not for dads?

    I'm sure it wasn't said with intent, but it does demonstrate the pervasiveness of this unconscious attitude.
    Reply to this
    1. 11/15/2010 3:09 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks, Miki. You make a good point, especially the part about "intent." There are many issues we need to work on in our organizations. You've highlighted an important one.

      Reply to this
  • 11/15/2010 3:32 PM Laura Schroeder wrote:
    I just want to applaud Mrs. Lazarus for taking family time in order to make it 'OK' for others to as well. What a great value to share!
    Reply to this
    1. 11/15/2010 7:43 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks, Laura. It's a much more powerful message when it's an action instead of a memo.

      Reply to this
  • 11/15/2010 3:38 PM Rick Hoke wrote:
    Hey Wally,

    You are absolutely right. The "Do as I say, Not as I do" theory of leadership has failed every time it's tried. Your subordinates will lose all respect for you once you expose yourself as a hypocrite. Once those two things happen, you can never recover. You will never regain their respect. So, lead by example!

    Great post Wally.
    Reply to this
    1. 11/15/2010 7:44 PM Wally Bock wrote:
      Thank you, Rick
      Reply to this
  • 11/15/2010 4:34 PM Richard Van wrote:
    I just finished reading Bob Sutton's lastest book, "Good Boss, Bad Boss" and this was one of the main points he stressed. You summed it up pretty well here Wally, but one thing I emphasize is that most bosses aren't aware of their actions and the impact it has on others. Sutton says that if you want to be a good boss then you have be constantly aware of how others perceive you. Bosses are always constantly under the radar by their subordinates and if the boss wants to find out his strengths/weaknesses, he or she should ask his subordinates to point them out - without fear of getting in trouble of course.
    Reply to this
    1. 11/15/2010 7:47 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Good point. Another simple but not easy behavior. If you want honest feedback from your people you need to be aware of two things. Some people will never give it to you. The others will take a while to be sure they can trust you, EVEN, if they like, respect, and trust you in other things. And, even the smallest real or perceived betrayal of that trust will take you all the way back to the beginning.

      Reply to this
      1. 11/16/2010 8:55 PM Anthony wrote:
        Wally, I read one of your blogs regarding "feedback" and structured an essay on the subject. Here in your reply, just enhances the many aspects of leadership. Especially...TRUST. Thanks again
        Reply to this
        1. 11/17/2010 12:39 PM Wally Bock wrote:
          Thank you for the kind words, Anthony.
          Reply to this
  • 11/15/2010 5:57 PM Derek Irvine Globoforce wrote:
    Wally, this is a critically important topic and one I plan to blog on soon -- particularly on recent research published by the business school at Arizona State Univ. on the findings that middle managers were the most committed/loyal to the organization if the CEO truly lived the company values as his/her personal values as well. When this was less so, employee loyalty rapidly diminished. Truly fascinating research:;jsessionid=d03066c9c554b7728c346e70492757572271
    Reply to this
    1. 11/15/2010 7:48 PM Wally Bock wrote:
      Thanks, Derek. I'll look forward to that post.
      Reply to this
  • 11/15/2010 7:15 PM Miki Saxon wrote:
    Hi Derek, do you have the URL for the actual article? the URL you posted links to an about page, but no article.

    Reply to this
  • 11/15/2010 8:15 PM Derek Irvine Globoforce wrote:
    Miki, my apologies for the poor link. The correct link for the ASU research is:;jsessionid=d03066c9c554b7728c346e70492757572271?articleid=1928
    Reply to this
    1. 11/16/2010 11:52 AM Wally Bock wrote:
      Thanks for tracking back and giving us that link, Derek.
      Reply to this
  • 11/15/2010 8:56 PM Scott W wrote:
    Wally, this is a good point, and it's one of those things which often said but not always demonstrated. I am suddenly faced with the prospect of a leadership role with my employer, and the first thing I realized is that I need to start acting more like a leader if I want to head that direction. As you and some of the other commenters have said, people really look toward their leaders for clues on how to behave. I hate to admit that my behavior would change along with a change in career aspirations, but it's the truth. Thanks for the article.
    Reply to this
    1. 11/16/2010 11:36 AM Kirk Hunt wrote:
      TO Scott W: You recognize the need to change. Bravo! Assuming good faith and honesty on your part, you are acting with the insight, courage and integrity that too few leaders even attempt these days. Congratulations on being on track to being a superior leader.
      Reply to this
      1. 11/17/2010 12:33 PM Wally Bock wrote:
        Thanks for adding that, Kirk
        Reply to this
    2. 11/16/2010 11:59 AM Wally Bock wrote:

      Scott, the recognition that you should start "acting like a leader" immediately sets you apart from many of your peers. I suggest that you identify some role models to guide your thinking about what "acting like a leader" means for you. A mentor can be powerfully helpful on these things if you can establish a solid and helpful relationship. Seek out the counsel of your peers, especially those with more experience.


      The change to thinking and acting like a leader won't happen all at once. You can expect a year to two years before you feel like you've mastered the basics of the work. You can speed the process up by soliciting feedback and reviewing your leadership work consciously and frequently.

      Reply to this
  • 11/15/2010 9:58 PM Miki Saxon wrote:
    Thanks, Derek. My company has a new product on the market that allocates incentive stock in startups/private companies based on the leader's values. Option Sanity™ makes it very obvious if the walk doesn't match the talk.

    If you are curious you can learn about it at
    Reply to this
    1. 11/16/2010 11:53 AM Wally Bock wrote:
      Thanks for the catch on the link, Miki.
      Reply to this
  • 11/16/2010 10:55 AM Jen Turi wrote:
    I like this post Wally. Being real is so important and you can't be real if you say one thing and do another. I just posted about strong ethical cultures and workplace compliance. In the study I was reading on this topic, one finding was that the highest levels of managemant are the ones who have the greatest influence on the culture of the company. Employees are definitely watching and taking their cues. Integrity is often more important than anyone realizes. Oh, and this is true in ALL of life - personal interaction too.
    Reply to this
    1. 11/16/2010 12:07 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks, Jen. I've seen that research, too, and you're right about what it says. I'd like to add two things it doesn't address that I perceive as important. First, for a top level manager to affect the culture of an entire company, he or she needs to be there for a while. Second, while the top level manager can have the greatest affect on the organization as a whole, it's the boss of each work team that has the greatest impact on a worker's every day work life.

      Reply to this
  • 11/16/2010 12:39 PM terry wrote:
    I agree it is important for bosses to model the work/life balance. I also think it is important for the boss to balance masculine/feminine traits. I worked for a boss who had the opportunity to attend her children's school activities during the day.

    However, I do not think I could indulge in the same behavior without negatively impacting my case load and job security

    Usually workers have to find a balance

    My father died of heart disease at early age, and mother had to work, demonstrating this work/life, feminine/masculine balance. When my children were growing up, I stayed home in AM, worked in evening when husband home with kids. I missed some activities, enjoyed other opportunities

    Last evening, I smiled while watching a father accompany his 5 year daughter to the bookstore. She definitely did know what she wanted. Both father/daughter compromised. That little girl followed her father to the car in the rain. She was so excited about her new project. I wish I could know what she'll be doing in 20 years. We all benefit from a work/life, feminine/masculine balance!
    Reply to this
    1. 11/16/2010 1:09 PM Wally Bock wrote:

      Thanks for sharing those observations and experiences.

      Reply to this
  • 11/16/2010 8:46 PM Anthony wrote:
    Miki, men...whether they are in the workplace, or at home...I believe are taking a more proactive position in the home. And I believe (as a man) that we should. The leadership examples demonstrated in the home by mom's have accented on, if not blazened a trail for us men to replicate. Consciousness rarily mimicks reality, but with intent, is a work in progress.
    Reply to this
    1. 11/17/2010 12:38 PM Wally Bock wrote:
      Thanks for adding to the conversation, Anthony.
      Reply to this
  • 11/17/2010 8:23 PM terry wrote:
    Hi Wally,

    Thanks for posting my previous lengthy comments about the work/life and feminine/
    masculine balance in an easier to read format.
    I thought of an addendum to the leader setting the example. My professor is a hospital CEO and single mother. In class she told us about watching her daughter ride horses and reflecting on family. Then she wrote her article for the hospital newsletter about her reflections on her personal and work families. She said she had more + feedback on the article about home and work families than any other articles.
    I think that is difficult for most workers and bosses to find the balance and the boundaries. Just like the salads and the diets, we have to work to keep it all in balance, so we can enjoy the healthy, fun treats! : )
    Reply to this
    1. 11/17/2010 9:03 PM Wally Bock wrote:
      Nicely said, Terry. Thanks.

      Reply to this
  • 11/22/2010 2:40 PM Phillip Turner wrote:
    I agree with this one, many managers forget that the people they manage watch what they do daily. Managers should take into consideration that many people in the company have a desire to be a manager one day so they pay attention to what their managers do in order to know what to do when they get to that position. People are always watching and managers should always focus on being role models as well as a leader.
    Reply to this
    1. 11/22/2010 2:56 PM Wally Bock wrote:
      Verry true, Phillip, very true. Thanks for stopping by.
      Reply to this
  • 12/14/2010 12:53 AM Mcx Zinc tips wrote:
    I think that leadership in organization is a challenging proposition. And does not require high level of leadership skills, leadership coaching or education, but should in ample measure, have and reflect a fair mix of courage, robust common sense and sincerity of purpose.
    Reply to this
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