Why every leader should know about Modelling

Leaders must influence; they have the opportunity to make change happen, they often have both connection and power but must be careful on how they use it.
I guess your interest has been captured by the title!
We are all expert modellers, or at least we were! We are born with the innate ability to copy; it’s one of the ways in which we learn as a child. We see those who are around us the most, do things and we copy it, this extends to the way in which we learn language and one reason why a child can learn multiple languages at an early age simultaneously and easily.
I was reading an article on CEO strategy the other day by Roger Martin, a professor at the University of Toronto. In it, a small sentence caught my eye; “everybody watches the leader of his or her organisation. If the leader is successful, everyone will attempt to mimic them”. Never has a truer statement been made and this is where the importance of understanding modelling comes in.
As leaders, we demonstrate behaviours to others constantly, we are putting out there what is acceptable and if we are successful, others will want and try to copy us in order to replicate that success. Conversely, if we are poor leaders using power and influence inappropriately to get what we want, we will find and attract others who find it easier to operate under poor leadership and who will also adopt poor behaviours to both fit in and support the leadership. This makes for a very unsatisfactory situation, often with tell and do command and control structure where blame and punishment thrive.
There are two sides to modelling that are worth exploring here, one is from the perspective of how we can enhance our leadership skills and style, the other is how we can influence others in our organisations into adopting and demonstrating behaviours we know support the organisations success. Dr Wyatt Woodsmall quotes “practice does not make perfect; only perfect practice makes perfect”. It is important that we identify and seek out exemplars with leadership skills & styles that we wish to emulate in order to learn and grow.
Firstly, we need to make sure we have exemplars to model. Those who consistently demonstrate abilities and skills to the highest level, it’s therefore important to find the best. We should look at more than just one person as things they do and the way they do it may just be idiosyncratic to them; ideally find three people from different organisations and types of work.
Modelling requires us to get behind what the exemplar does to find out why and the thought processes that support the actions, modelling is more than copying! Here is an example; if you copy the action of say a football striker taking a penalty, then you would be copying all the physical side of taking a penalty, placing the ball, the position you take prior to the run up, the aim and striking the ball. You would miss the strategy and that is what modelling is all about.
The strategy is the mental sequence, the program that runs in the brain that informs the physical actions to deliver the desired results. To understand this mental strategy requires study, it can be achieved through meeting the exemplar and questioning them to uncover their values and beliefs that guide and influence their decision making, it can be achieved through reading books and articles that explicitly reveal these details, case studies online media etc. The key is to uncover what all the exemplars have in common and then to implement that strategy ourselves for improved results.
Secondly, is the importance of realising that we have both the ability and position as leaders to influence organisational culture and individual behaviours? The key is not just talking the talk, its walking the walk, every second of every day.
Attitude is infectious is yours worth catching?
As leaders we have the opportunity to be exemplars for those we work with, we have choice in the way we are. By demonstrating to others consistently what successful behaviours look like, we create the opportunity to recognise and reward those behaviours when we see them. The consequences are dramatic, not only do workplaces become a more pleasurable place to be in, productivity, creativity, employee engagement, flexibility, profitability all increase.
Our leadership challenge is to develop the ability to constantly check our attitude, making sure it’s worth catching.