In the ever-morphing corporate world, the importance of people managers modeling the behaviours they anticipate from their employees is an unarguable piece that separates the good from the great people managers, and is a significant success factor in working relationships. Here is the best part, it takes little effort and promises great unexpected return on effort.

Now if the title of this blog has somehow attracted unsuspecting six-foot tall slender runway models, who clicked on this little narrative, hoping for tips to outmaneuver their career driven colleagues, I apologize for the slight misunderstanding this title may have caused. To rectify this error as you strive for better status on the international runways and perhaps finally get that that coveted Vogue magazine cover, I will address to this important alternative definition of modeling later in this blog, meaning you can skip the next four paragraphs.

” I never ask my people to do anything I wouldn’t do myself” is a popular phrase that is so easy to express, but so difficult to do. Let me share with you, the power of combining the knowing of that over used cliche and the demonstration of those twelve words.

Many years ago, when I was a sales representative in southwestern Ontario, I had a well respected district manager named Dave Oatman. The late and truly great Mr. Oatman would come out and work with me about once every two months. Though I always thought he was only there to ensure my car was clean and buy me a nice lunch outside of the pittance of our $6.50 a day meal allowance, he truly saw his role as a little more substantial. It was during one of these visits I learned the unforgettable lesson of modeling as a key attribute of great leaders.

I had somehow sold a small pharmacy in Kincardine enough trays of Metamucil, they were convinced this inventory would last them until DiMaggio’s unbreakable hitting streak was eclipsed. My manager wisely suggested building an end aisle display to help alleviate the friction I had created would generate sales. After getting tepid agreement from the pharmacist, what happened next changed my aspiring management ideas forever.

Mr. Oatman took off his wrinkled jacket, and hung it by condom shelf that nervous teenage boys were quickly walking past, and literally rolled up his sleeves, took me to the storage area and started carrying out multiple trays of our product. Within no time, an empty end aisle transformed into beautiful castle of Metamucil. Agreed upon stickers and pricing accessorized this monument. My participation in this engineering masterpiece was limited, meaning I stood and watched. I may have occasionally stacked a tray or two, but one does not interrupt an artist when that artist is creating a masterpiece. I never forgot as I watched and learned from a master. Mr. Oatman than confidently approached the pharmacist with his Kodak instamatic camera, and asked if he could take a picture to show the head office how wonderful his store looked. The smile from this pharmacist was immediate, and my desire to please my manager never waned for the rest of our working relationship. Modeling is an under-appreciated trait of great leaders.

Now back to the runway models, who have patiently waited for applicable coaching and direction to help with their important careers.  When I was a pimply- faced adolescent, I purchased a Cheryl Tiegs poster, for the younger models reading this, she was considered the very first supermodel, and was prominent on 1970s Sports Illustrated covers. These fashion statements were done to lure the less than fashion conscious males to their well written sports articles.

I taped that poster on the wall of my room, and then wrote Ms. Tiegs weekly as I knew this model and I had a lot to talk about. I did not receive a single reply to my well written fifteen page letters.  I then decided to drive to California to comprehend why she hadn’t replied to my correspondence.  I tracked her down without the assistance of the uninvented GPS, but the well-trained security guards blocked my every attempt to meet Cheryl.  I affectionately refer to this time as my celebrity dating years. The legal system in California, unduly influenced by rather cynical lawyers, incorrectly refer to this act as stalking. After enduring the humiliation of unenforceable long distance restraining orders, I replaced this unappreciative bedroom poster with a much less distracting Keep on Trucking poster. The point, and there is one, is don’t fall in love with models.

Now another exploration of this idea forces us to look at the root of the word modeling. Models are a simple way to teach concepts to a colleague or a large audience. Using models to explain complex concepts into simple language is a hallmark of superior coaches and engaging presenters.

When presenting your riveting 156 PowerPoint slides to your riveted audience, relying on models is a standard way to explain words with pictures.  All organizations have their models, to help articulate the meaning of important information.  Selling models help managers coach sales people with common language.  HR models truly help with the understanding of compensation, policies and performance grids.  Models help to converse about the application of ideas, but be very wary of over reliance on the model.  They serve as the platform of deeper conversation, however they are not the conversation. The point here as I believe repetition is a key adult learning principle is simply this. Don’t fall in love with models.

Fast forward to a few months ago. I had the pleasure of participating in a Clear Concept Productivity workshop with twelve very talented banking managers. At around 11:45, the leader of these managers, discreetly got out of his chair, and left the room unnoticed. Quietly he returned back to the board room carrying multiple trays, of sandwiches stacked with healthy vegetables, and not so healthy deserts. He quietly placed them on the back table of the room. This gesture may not seem like much to many, but I could not help but travel back in time to that pharmacy in Kincardine. The look of respect and admiration I transmitted to my boss that morning, was the identical look this twelve bank managers displayed as they, continued to focus on the workshop that was wrapping up. When managing people, no job is too small to make a difference.

Let me conclude by offering this sage, yet simple advice taught to me in action so many years ago. When you are a people manager who occasionally struggles with employees, who don’t quite get the indisputable wisdom of what you are offering, stop talking and show them.

Modeling matters. Thank you Dave Oatman, Rest in Peace.



One thought on “Modeling

  1. Dennis. This reminds me of the story of the dad who says “I don’t know what is wrong with my son. I’ve told him many times how to cut the lawn but he still doesn’t do a good job.”
    When people fail to meet your expectations, frequently it’s because you have failed to make them clear. Modelling works beautifully here!

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