Are you always on the lookout for new innovation and leadership tools? Do you go to conferences looking for the latest techniques to adopt? If you do, you’re in good company but in your search for tools you may be overlooking something much more powerful: behaviors.
Tools are temporary. A tool is something we use as needed and then set aside. Behaviors are in a sense tools used repeatedly. They’re more lasting and sustained. It’s the difference between paying someone a compliment as a means of guiding their actions and attitudes (using a tool), and making a habit of that practice (exhibiting a behavior). Which is likely to be more effective?
Many managers and aspiring leaders are searching for tools when what most needs to be addressed are behaviors—often their own. When we think in terms of tools, we tend to focus on how to somehow change what others are doing. Thinking in terms of behaviors tends to focus our attention on ourselves and what we may need to do differently. (Am I just wielding a saw or striving to become a carpenter?) Any inconsistencies between what we do and what we expect become more obvious.
Focusing on behaviors reminds us that if we want people to be coachable, we as leaders need to be visibly coachable. If we want to see people step up and take responsibility for their mistakes, we need to exhibit that same personally accountability. If we want people to more enthusiastically embrace our ideas, we need to stop and ask ourselves how often we make a point of embracing others’ ideas? If we want our team to take the kinds of risks that innovation requires, we need to be taking those same personal risks.
Creating a culture of innovation requires more than tools and techniques and strategies. It requires a shift in behaviors. And in any organization, the behaviors that have the most impact are those of its leaders. The more I study leadership and observe leaders, the more convinced I am that it has more to do with who we are (our core values and behaviors) than about what we do (the tools we use).