Forbes, “Why Behaviors Are A Critical Yet Largely Untapped Resource For Leaders” (8-12-19)
I wish I had known about behaviors as an officer in the U.S. Army. It would have been a game-changer in effectively leveraging my strengths along with those of my team. It seems that nearly every professional I’ve worked with as a consultant and leadership coach feels the same way after explaining behaviors to them.
Behaviors are an incredibly important area in leadership development, and yet they are, in my opinion, largely untapped. They describe the “how” of our leadership. If you can understand what you’re naturally inclined to do when you lead others, and how it affects the team, organization and customer, then you’re in a position to increase the odds of success. Let me explain.
What are behaviors?
Behaviors describe a person’s predisposition towards a specific manner of action over another. Whereas psychology will tell you “why” someone might do something, behaviors describe the “how.”
Everyone has a behavioral profile, which is, in essence, a combination of different traits. Your “natural self” was formed early in your childhood. Rarely, if at all, will it change.
Behaviors influence relationships. Some people are always open and friendly; they find it very easy to walk around a party and shake hands with strangers. Other profiles are private and shy away from this. They require time to get to know you. Either way affects the perception of trust.
Behaviors illuminate how we process information. Some people are comfortable with “gut” decisions; others require a “prove it to me” mentality. Both ways affect the speed of decision making.
Behaviors can also explain what we focus on. Some people place a premium on maintaining relationships, others focus on winning, and even some people on accuracy and quality. Either way, behaviors help explain risk-tolerance, a predisposition toward tasks versus goals, a focus on the people, the process or the systems and, ultimately, tactics versus strategy.
The challenge with behaviors is that so many people don’t understand them. Consider this: We’re taught as leaders to use specific styles based on specific situations. What many don’t know is that people are, based on their behavioral profiles, predisposed to one style over another! A person whose greatest fear is making a mistake and failing will find it very challenging to delegate details to others.
So what? What’s the impact?
Your behavioral profile is as normal as writing with your dominant hand. Likewise, going against it is the equivalent of writing with your non-dominant hand; you can do it, but it’ll be ugly and messy and, ultimately, you’ll burn out. And your struggle impacts the people around you, which in turn, affects performance and effectiveness.
I’ve seen a large contact center reduce an 80% attrition rate to 25% by modeling behaviors specific to the role. One high-potential leader in a multi-billion-dollar company gained a thorough understanding of her and her team’s behaviors; the result was a 40% increase in performance in just 14 weeks.
Not everyone uses behaviors. I’ve worked with many who say they’re important but ultimately ignore them. One executive went with his gut in a job interview with a senior-level candidate and ignored the behavioral information of the person. It cost the company $600,000 in less than a year.
Let’s take a close look at the impact of behaviors. Take a leader whose profile has a natural impulse to control. In fact, not controlling their environment equates to being lost. This makes them uncomfortable and often not pleasant to work with. Now add the urge for speed in execution with a pattern of speaking in general terms, along with avoiding detail for detail sake, and here, you have a leader who is fast, competitive and all about accomplishing the big picture.
What kind of strategy is this person comfortable with? Is it deliberate, methodical and designed for accuracy? Or, is it defined by general guidelines, autonomy and a focus on winning? With this profile, the answer is almost always the latter. What’s the impact on the team? Think about the people who need details and specifics but get vague, general concepts instead. Consider those who desire harmony and cooperation but refuse to challenge others as they avoid conflicts. Ponder those who want to ensure perfection through analysis and planning but delay execution.
Understanding behaviors provides you a wonderful opportunity to leverage your natural strengths. It also assists you in complementing them by effectively using different, even opposite ones. But too many leaders don’t understand behaviors. The result is unnecessary pain and loss of time, patience, resources and opportunities.
Before you do your assessment …
Many behavioral tools are available, and not all are equal. Don’t mistake popularity with quality. In order to get real value from behavioral tools, I recommend three things.
First and foremost, your tool must be scientific. This protects you as it differentiates your true self from what you imagine others see.
Next, you must identify how people, and you, masquerade. Have you ever said to yourself, “That is not the same person I interviewed weeks ago?” Many people modify their behaviors in order to influence how they are perceived. This is how bad hires happen.
Finally, account for stress, which is the result of going against your natural self. It’s this insight that allows you to look back and trace what’s happening in the background that causes stress.