Is your leadership contagious? In many ways, you hope so. If you are doing leaderly things (if ‘leaderly’ isn’t a word, it should be!), such as casting vision, inspiring hope and enthusiasm, and all the other good things a team leader does, then you hope other people will catch what you have. But if, as I’m about to relate, you are a leader who is crusty, suspicious and otherwise cranky, you might be infecting your staff with the negative aspects of your personality or character. If you’ve got a case of something bad, be warned! And get over it before your staff catches it!
The pastor and the receptionist
A friend of mine is preparing to go overseas as a long term missionary for his denomination. Part of the preparation involves raising his own support, so he has phoned virtually all of his own denomination’s churches to inquire about their willingness to consider supporting him.
He was taken aback by the very negative responses he got. Several pastors complained that all missionaries want is their money. One pastor said, “I wish you missionaries would just go away and stop asking for money!” Hey, I’m only reporting what I was told! I know from my thesis work that some churches rebuff independent agencies this way, but their own denomination’s missionaries?
The really intriguing part of what my friend said, from a leadership perspective, was that after a while he learned that the reception he got from whoever answered the phone would be the same kind of reception he would get from the pastor. If the person who answered the phone was engaging and interested in his mission work, the pastor would be too. If the person who answered the phone was cold and aloof, the pastor would be too. There was, he reported, a very strong correlation. It got to the point that when he got a frosty receptionist, he wanted to just hang up and skip the frosty pastor.
Leaders model what is acceptable
My friend’s observation was that leaders determine by their behaviour what is acceptable and unacceptable staff behaviour. If the leader treats people with disdain, the staff understands that it is okay to do that and they will more likely do it too (or if they don’t want to compromise their own standards, they will lose their respect for the leader). If the leader treats everyone respectfully, then the staff will realize that they must as well. You may not have thought of it this way, but you are always training your staff as they watch what you do.
I doubt your own staff will tell you if your leadership is contagious in a bad way, but there are at least two ways that you can find out what your team is catching from you. One way is to unobtrusively observe their interactions with people. The other is to have an external consultant survey your clients, suppliers, donors and other external partners to see how your staff treats them. Whatever the results, your staff probably takes their cue from you.