By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
With allergy season upon us, I recall when I realized I sneezed just like my dad. Not that there was anything wrong with how Dad sneezed, just that it was distinctive. At first, I chalked this up to heredity, but that wasn’t it. Instead, it was likely a byproduct of environment.
As I spent more time with my dad, the more I became like him. Not just physiological idiosyncrasies, but I picked up traits that are more significant, such as character, work ethic, and worldview. If I unknowingly learned these things by being around my dad, what do others learn and model after spending time with me?
On the negative side, when parents see distressing behavior in their children, they often do some soul searching, asking, “Where did they learn this? Although kids have many areas of influence, parents are a key source. Parents send a powerful example to their offspring through their words and actions.
I also see this principle in the workplace. Let’s consider patients and callers. Every organization has a few difficult ones – the kind you wish would just go away. But what if many are challenging? Maybe these people are merely reflecting the organization’s culture and how it treats them.
From the employee aspect, I’ve seen this occur on different levels. Once, I witnessed a call center shift supervisor’s negative influence on all the agents she oversaw. They were apathetic, took long breaks, and had no employer loyalty. The worst offenders were fired and replacements trained, but they fell into the same mode. Eventually the supervisor was scrutinized. She had grown haughty in her position, had become apathetic, took long breaks, and disrespected her employer. Her charges merely emulated what they saw in her. A new supervisor was hired, and she turned things around.
I’ve also seen this happen in an entire a call center. It seemed that good employees could not be found. Each new hire lied, manipulated, and disregarded policies and procedures. Their manager was a compulsive liar, a shameless manipulator of her staff, and a source of open contempt for her employer. After replacing the manager, the new leader suddenly found good employees to hire. It took years to overcome the damaging effects of the bad manager’s influence. However, with fresh leadership, the operation slowly began to turn around.
When a consistent trend of unacceptable behavior is evident in an entire group, it might be time to look at its leadership as the source of the problem.
Our influence on others is nothing to sneeze about.