Make Yourself Contagious

Throughout my career I have worked in many diverse cultural environments. Each different and distinct, not because of what widget the company produced but because of the leader of the organization.

This is not relegated to small companies but in large organizations as well, leaders have personas and those personas have ripples. Leaders influence cultures simply by who they are. The behavior of leaders are contagious.

I observed one leader who was almost never on time… Not for a meeting, dinner, or a press event. This leader simply did not respect other people’s time. That disrespect sifted through the organization to the point where keeping schedules became unimportant and the wasting of time the norm.

In yet another case, I was able to work with a leader who was very generous to employees and to the community in general both in time and financial resources. As such, the organization today is known for its generosity and community engagement.

Research by James Fowler of the University of California at San Diego and Nicholas Christakis of Yale has shown that “happiness is contagious.” According to the study, if you have a co-worker who is happy, the probability that you will be happier increases by 25%.

Behaviors are also contagious. Christakis and Fowler concluded that if you have overweight friends “you are more likely to be overweight yourself” and ”if you quit smoking, your friends are more likely to quit.”

John Maxwell in Jump Start Your Growth insists that “good leadership creates engaged employees and leaders influence a variety of outcomes such as personnel turnover, customer satisfaction, sales, revenue, productivity.” Stands to reason that if you are a good leader, you would make the people around you more likely to become good leaders as well. Leadership is contagious; good or bad.

To understand what behaviors are most readily caught or adapted Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman of the Harvard Business Review’s article “The Trickle Down Effect of Good (and Bad) Leadership” did the research. “Specifically, we tested 51 behaviors and found significant correlations in over 30 of them. Within the behaviors that appeared contagious, there were some that appeared even more contagious than others.” The behaviors or traits that had the “highest correlations between managers and their direct reports centered on the following themes,” (here they are listed in order of most to least contagious):
• Focus on developing yourself and others
• Enhance your technical skills
• Improve your strategic thinking skills
• Model consideration and cooperation
• Demonstrate integrity and honesty
• Keep a global perspective
• Be decisiveness
• Keep a keen eye and focus on results

We must develop ourselves so that our best behaviors, traits and habits would be contagious to our teams and the rest of the organization. Personal development is essential for future growth.

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