What’s Behind a Person’s Behavior?

So I go into my bank the other day, and as the teller is processing a couple of payments for me, she asks, “Are you doing anything fun this weekend?”

My answer, “Well yes I am.”

She looked up and said, “What are you doing?”

My response, “I can’t tell you.” To which, she stopped transacting, and started laughing. The next teller over started laughing. The observer between them (a trainee I suspect) started laughing. The five customers huddled around the window to my left, started laughing.

“Oh, so you’re having fun this weekend, and you can’t tell us what you’re up to?” And then, the tellers were off and running …

My answer had given them plenty of inspiration, as they all joined in, making remarks about why I wouldn’t tell them what fun I was having, and what I might be doing? The customers nearby were actively listening, and the banter continued until I left the bank.

So, what just happened?

I’d given her a perfectly honest, and accurate answer (I’ll admit, I did try to say this in a way that took the edge off, and hopefully made it somewhat humorous). But, underneath, I was quite serious. I didn’t think it was a good idea to tell her what I was doing because I felt we weren’t having a personal (or private) conversation. We were having a “customer service” conversation; in front of a lot of people.

I also suspected she didn’t particularly care what I was doing that weekend anyway, but was following the bank’s instructions to “be friendly, and ask the customer a question as you’re doing business.” Not a bad idea, but, in my view, the execution could’ve used some polish. Some information is best not broadcast to strangers.

I was headed out of town. I was flying to Kansas City, and my wife was traveling to Seattle to see her parents. Our house would be unattended for several days, and thus, I was just being cautious.

Those were my motivations for answering as I did. I’m sure she didn’t perceive the reasons behind my response.

Here’s the Leadership Lesson.

Our motivations drive our actions.

As leaders, it’s important for us to get to know our people well enough that we can more fully understand why they do what they do. Getting to know them as individuals gives us better ideas on how to approach and communicate with them. Satisfy their intrinsic needs. Make them feel good about themselves and their job.

Understanding their motivations helps us find what works to get them enthused and be more committed; employing appropriate processes, procedures, and means to engage them. This builds their confidence and respect for us.

Now I believe most people do things for the right reasons. But on the flipside, some do not.

I don’t think you should be suspicious of everyone’s motivations, but I also don’t think you should be foolish and naïve either. Making judgments about people is one of the most critical aspects of leadership. Mistakes in personnel, and how they’re handled, will undermine your agenda and compromise your long-term plans. Accurate assessment clears our thinking about how we can improve productivity, coach, mentor, and persuade them to perform at higher levels.

As a leader, you can take that to the bank.

– Jerry Strom

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This article is based on the *’Focal Points Study: The Most Important Things a Leader Should Know,’ copyright 2014, by Jerry Strom & Company, Inc. Find the Research Abstract, along with descriptions of many of our other research projects at http://www.jerrystrom.com/js_research.html .

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