Hey, Aspiring Leaders! Listen to This 12 Yr Old

During an interview on Olivia Parr-Rud’s radio show several months ago, renowned leadership expert, John Renesch, told a great story about how corporate cultures are formed and perpetuated. The story involves an experiment with a room full of monkeys that are gradually conditioned to physically abuse  a new monkey introduced into the environment. By subjecting the first five monkeys to a negative stimulus and then removing and substituting one monkey at a time, the researchers were able to observe the bad behavior among a totally new group of five monkeys, even though none of them had witnessed the original negative stimulus and therefore none of them knew why they were abusing the new monkey – they simply saw the other monkeys doing it and copied the behavior.

“…they simply saw the other monkeys doing it and copied the behavior”

By now nearly everyone has seen this photo (or a video clip) of a 12 year old boy named Ryan, who unselfishly handed a foul ball he was given at a Red Sox game last Friday, to the little girl sitting behind him. In and of itself the act is extraordinary, especially in a time when self-promotion and self-enrichment seem to be the primary motivators for nearly everything we see and hear about.  But for me the even more remarkable thing is what young Ryan said when asked about why he did it. His answer: “I’ve seen people do it before and I thought it’s a nice thing,” Ryan said.

“I’ve seen people do it before”  ~ Ryan, 12 yrs old

Leaders and aspiring leaders please take a lesson from this remarkable young man: You create a corporate culture by what you role model. You need to understand you are being observed at all times.  Your every word, every gesture, every snippet of body language is being noted, discussed and parsed. If you are self-centered, vengeful, self-serving, arrogant, pompous, venal and deceitful, guess what kind of corporate environment you are fashioning?  On the other hand, if you are truthful, innovative, forgiving, compassionate, helpful, tolerant, understanding, collaborative appreciative and mindful – you are building a Conscious, Creative, and Collaborative organization.

To me it seems the choice is pretty simple. Research has conclusively demonstrated the relationship between conscious leadership and high performance. (Read “Firms of Endearment” by Raj Sisodia)  Similarly, creativity and discretionary effort are consistently found to flourish in organizations where employee engagement is stimulated by visionary, other-centered leaders…Altrupreneurs, as I call them. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see the pattern here, folks.  Clearly, in the world of organizational leadership, you reap what you sow!

Pay attention to young Ryan. Whether you like it or not, you are leading by example all the time. You might as well send the best message possible.