Models – as in people who do the things you want to do or be rather than slinky young men and women walking down a fashion runway – are the pathways from our dreams to our realities.
It’s seeing somebody you know do something – and even people you don’t know but imagine you could be – doing something and realizing “I could do that.”
Whether it’s a woman hearing the story of Esther Morris in action and knowing that boundaries are often made to be broken, or a younger Mark Zuckerberg realizing that Steve Jobs’ career route is an option for him too, modeled behavior is what inspires us to do both the impossible as well as the humble. Talent Code author Daniel Coyle notes that “windshield time” – time spent watching other people do things – are often the elements that ignite your imagination and fire more than just a few neural synapses to grow gray matter helping you integrate those behaviors.
And the inspiration doesn’t have to be just people. Seeing places or things – think kids visiting (in awe) the Cal or Stanford campus or a young Steve Jobs with Apple engineering colleagues in tow visiting Xerox Parc – can set minds and visions in motion.
Last Saturday my son Traylor (and spouse Chris) joined around 25 other parents and kids from Traylor’s grade school for a field gleaning in Bolinas at Star Route Farms. Gleaning – the act of harvesting vegetables and fruits from fields that have already had the commercial harvesting once over – is a way to harvest what would be wasted food. While it was also a chance to do a good deed – the 50+ boxes of fresh kale and chard went straight to food kitchens that afternoon to feed the homeless in Marin and San Francisco – more importantly it was a way to model behavior, hoping to ignite some neural impulses in the brain of the apple of my eye that’s my son.
The modeling hoped to be imparted with Traylor was that of selflessness, doing for others without the expectation of getting anything in return. It’s that part of “the deal” in living in a healthy community that is to let others do for you but also that that you do for others.
I recently had lunch with a former junior colleague from my time at Barclays Global Investors; a bright guy with a challenging, bumpy upbringing who is trying hard to do the right thing in work and life. Like a lot of people he’s hoping to keep his personal life segregated from his job life, a hard challenge in these times of Google first, ask second. Part of his challenge is an absence of windshield time of the right sort – not lots of good models to emulate so he has the challenge of making it up as he goes along – and hoping that lapses in his private life don’t torpedo his work reputation.
Part of the suggestion to him is that a little thoughtfulness on who he wanted to be in his personal life – just like who he wanted to be in his work life – could save him some trouble and time if he knitted the two lives together in a more purposeful whole. Behave as you want to be, not behave as you wish you weren’t.
Like the challenge in executive leadership – sometimes business leaders hope their employees do as they say, not as they do – models count. While it might be great to be the first to do something, the path is a lot simpler if you’re the second and or third. For every Esther Morris (“I could do that“) there are people who are lost and adrift without good models to adopt or adept. The simple fact for all of us is that people imitate our behaviors, whether we like it or not.
Behaving with intent though, whether it’s how you interact with people with whom you work, or the people in your lives like your kids, sends messages with a host of ramifications.
And a little intent and a little thought helps to up the odds that it’s the outcomes you want, rather the outcomes you’d prefer to avoid.
Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.