Click here for FREE resources for my new book: “Results.”Take Me There!
Click for my FREE 'Results' Resource Toolkit!


Behavioral Leadership Brings the Water

Sample Client List

They ought to want to do it –
Behavioral Leadership brings you the water

Some years ago, a worker shows up at my house to fix the cable TV and while he’s working my pre-school aged son takes it on himself to bring the worker a bottle of water from our pantry. The cable guy thanked him and smiled, it was a nice thing to do.

Being a curious behavioral psychologist, when the worker left our house I asked my son why he brought the guy water. Pushing him a little bit, I said, “Isn’t he paid to do this work? Shouldn’t he bring his own water?” My son said, “He’s doing a lot of work for us and he might get thirsty for some water.”

That exchange got me thinking a bit about the inverse actions that we sometimes see in business.

The argument goes something like this: An employee is not meeting expectations on the job. We suggest that perhaps the business hasn’t created the right conditions for success. A manager stands up and says, “All of this hand holding is getting to be too much for me. When does it end? Do you have to reward every person for every little thing they do? Their paycheck ought to be enough!”

Let’s stop, take a deep breath, and think this one through a little more carefully. What if you used the same logic for:

    • your children? …They ought to go to bed on time because I said so…
    • your spouse? …They ought to do the laundry because it’s always been that way…
    • your friends? …They ought to accept me because that’s what friends are for…
    • your boss? …They ought to want me to work on those valued projects because I’ve been here so long…

What these scenarios do not take into account is your role in creating an environment in which the other person (or persons) would ever want to do what you’re asking them to do.

We’ve all seen people in businesses treat their vendors, employees, customers, and even families, carelessly. Behavioral science would predict these kinds of patterns in some situations, especially when we become too busy.

However, it seems to defy logic: These are the very people we rely on to deliver our key results at work and in our personal life and yet we sometimes don’t treat them with the care and attention they deserve. We sometimes rely on people to simply do what they ought to do, without thinking about what it feels like to be them.

In most cases, a little bit of forethought on your part is all that is needed to make others feel good about what you hope they’ll do for you or the business.

This is perhaps why being too busy is a principle cause in the lack of prudence I am describing – when we’re too busy, we often go on ‘autopilot’ and stop thinking about things carefully.

A paycheck, contract, agreement, formal power or job role is usually not enough to bring out the best in people – these are just some threatening ways to keep people in line. We all know that threats tend to bring out compliance more so than excellence.

Your job as a leader, spouse, parent, etc. is to try to arrange things so that the people who interact with you are happy to be doing so.

Perhaps you can take a few minutes to think about some of your key relationships and consider how well you’ve set yourself and your partners up for success and happiness?

When is the last time you “brought someone a bottle of water”?

  1. Krystyna says:

    Brilliant, John! That is such a common response in organizations (“Isn’t this what they’re paid to do? Why should I give them anything extra?”) I love the parallel you draw between that response and someone’s personal life. Very simply put and easily relatable. It’s too easy to get stuck on autopilot.

    And how insightful of M!

    1. John says:

      Thanks Krystyna. Yeah, my pre-schooler teaches me something about behavior every day!

  2. John what great article. You’re a fantastic writer and had wonderful insight into how important it is to treat people kindly and with respect.

    1. John says:

      Thanks so much for reading, Cathy! I must say that my team have huge influence on each of these – I couldn’t do this by myself!

  3. Lisa Vanderhulst says:

    I just had this conversation yesterday – what we say must match what we do! Often there is a disconnect between actions and words and what we desire as demonstrated behavior change as part of the environment!

    1. John says:

      Great comment Lisa – I agree. We often talk about the disconnect between saying and doing as “behavioral debt” – as in, “promising something that you can’t (or won’t) deliver on…”

  4. David Wiss says:

    Good stuff John. Thanks for sharing this.
    I try each day to see people as individuals and offer them “bottle water” anytime I can. Those offers open up some interesting doors for me.

  5. Tammy says:

    Absolutely loved the ‘logical examples’… and your blog is a great reminder to us of our responsibility in creating our environments / relationships with others. Thank you for writing and sharing 🙂

  6. Rebecca says:

    So appreciate this timely posting! Well done.

    1. John says:

      Thank you for the kind words!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.