You Get What You Give

There's an often told anecdote about an angry man that shows up late to the airport for a flight to New York City. Added to his lateness is the fact that he also needs to check several bags. The ticket agent quickly and mechanically tags his luggage while the man issues a series of demeaning statements. "Can't you do this any faster?" "While I'm late, I called ahead, and there should at least be people helping you." "If I miss this flight, I will sue this airline, because my meeting is very important in New York!" Meanwhile, the agent continues to perform his work and finally sends the man on his way. As it turns out, he made his flight.

Another agent who watched all this transpire was both irritated at the passenger and amazed at the patience of the agent. She asked him, "How could you be so calm and patient in the face of such callousness?" "It was easy,” he replied. "That passenger is going to New York but his luggage is going to Los Angeles."

The lesson is simple: you get what you give. Enthusiasm is rewarded by enthusiasm, support by support, and yes, anger by sabotage. Whatever you want to evoke in others you need to model first yourself.

In the book, The Power of Nice, Thaler and Koval suggest that nice has a multiplier effect. It's a gift of sorts that keeps on giving. Conversely, they characterize negative impressions as germs. How important is nice? Consider that those who support others through volunteer work or by being a good neighbor have a much lower premature death rate than unhelpful people. They also suggest that nice makes more money (revenues are higher where people are cheerful and helpful), and nice is luckier in love (contributing to a lower divorce rate).

Whatever quality you are trying to elicit in others cannot be inauthentic, phony, or manipulative. It needs to be real to be believed and duplicated. There's an old saying, "Did you ever see a turtle on a fence post?" If you did, it's because someone put it there. Few of us ever get ahead on our own. Others help us along the way. As a school leader, one of the practices you can add to your tool box is a set of behaviors that are related to high performance and model them. Others will most certainly follow your lead.

I like what author Terry Barber says about authenticity. You don't have to be a great communicator to say thank you. You just have to mean it. All of these pieces of course contribute greatly to the culture of a classroom, team, or faculty. In biology, form often follows function. If you place multiple heart cells from different hearts in a Petri dish, they begin to come together and beat as one heart. That's how powerful leadership, actions, and culture can contribute to the success of a team.

As a student at The Ohio State University, I had a philosophy professor assert that the best way to determine a person’s real philosophy about any topic was not to ask them what they believe but rather observe what they do and you'll know what they believe. What are the behaviors that you want others to exhibit that contribute to the vitality of your organization? These are the actions and beliefs that attract talented people and cause them to want to stay. Optimism. Nice. Respect. Competence. Passion. Make your list. Then, powerfully communicate these behaviors by modeling them first yourself.

Several years ago, I visited the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle, which was the subject of a popular book and video entitled FISH. After nearing bankruptcy, the company completely changed how they did business, especially in interacting with their customers. Their new philosophy centered on play, making someone's day, being present for each other, and choosing a positive attitude. It worked by positively impacting the company's bottom line and changing the culture of many other work places that used their training materials.

To effectively influence behavior in a school district, business, or other organization, the leader must serve as a role model by first giving to others what they want in return.

Ania Striker