Reinforce the Right Behaviors

Catch People Doing the Right Thing

True, caring leaders catch people doing the right thing. Twitter @RobLowe

This week, actor, Rob Lowe, tweeted that Monday marked 31 years since he made the decision to walk away from alcohol and drug addiction. That’s more than 11,300 days of choosing to say no to the wrong things in his life, or rather choosing to say yes to making the right choices – to doing the right thing. In the responses to Lowe’s tweet and other’s retweets of same, in between the many affirmations and congratulatory well-wishes, some chose to strike a more cynical tone; asking why they should celebrate the achievements of a (insert expletive here) addict rather than those of say first responders or teachers. That struck me as sad. True that Rob Lowe and all who have beaten alcohol and drugs never stop being addicts – it’s part of the disease. But to consider an 11,000 day streak of doing the right thing as anything less than astounding is a missed opportunity. Every time another human being does something right should be celebrated, not denigrated.

And that’s the point for the week.

Great, caring leaders catch people doing things right and they make a big deal about it. They take care to do so as closely as possible to the event occurring and in as specific terms as possible, adding emotion and outcome-based language whenever they can. Simply saying, “Hey, great job” doesn’t cut it. It’s barely better than saying nothing at all. But when, as a leader, you take the time to say something like, “Hey Gina, I saw the way you took the time to ensure everything you put away had barcodes facing out; it may seem like a little thing, but it makes it so much easier and faster for our pickers to scan and pull things later. I really appreciate that you chose to do that the right way.” the message becomes especially meaningful and memorable, because the leader chose to make it specific and impactful.  Reinforcing correct behavior in this way also reinforces the desired behavior and increases the likelihood that the target of the leader’s praise will tell others, further broadcasting the message about not only the correct way to do things but that good things happen to those who do good things.

What does any of this have to do with a 50-something movie star who beat addiction? More than you think. See, habits aren’t formed or broken overnight. Nor are they generally formed or broken without encouragement from others. No doubt, Rob Lowe, at some point in his 31-year journey had the help of someone catching him doing something right or holding him accountable for making good decisions. Great, caring leaders do the same thing. One of the worst behaviors a leader can exhibit is to become upset with someone for failing to do something they don’t know they are supposed to be doing. Or worse, publicly humiliating others for failing to perform a task they are just learning to do. By focusing on catching people doing the right thing and recognizing them when they do, people more often will. It’s that simple.

And when more of them do, the organizations they comprise will move forward with great energy, speed and force. They will become self-sustaining juggernauts as the behavior of the leader is copied by others eager to repeat and pass on the same good feelings they received. People learn to trust each other more. They learn to rely on each other more. And, in time, they more often fight for one another and the goals they share. 

Most importantly, these organizations win more often, for no other reason than the people within them do the right things more often.  Maybe not every single day for 11,000 straight days often, but they get it right more than they get it wrong – all because they have leaders that care enough to say something when they see people doing it right.

So, catch people doing the right thing.

And win.

To purchase a copy of Phillip’s book, The Not So Subtle Art of Caring: Letters on Leadership, from John Hunt Publishing, London, please follow this LINK.

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