With all the talk about modeling and research that shows just how important it is, a person would think that it’s practice is widespread. Unfortunately, it is not. The problem, like many of the more damaging we encounter, is more pervasive (from habit and current norms) than we may initially think. So how could something as important as modeling be overlooked as a habit? All it takes to explain is some zucchini bread and a little bit of “because I said so.”
First, you have to understand that my wife makes the most delicious zucchini bread. Not quite as good as her chocolate chip cookies, but that is for another post). Second, you have to also realize that yes, that was part of the lame excuse I used to justify my lack of modeling my expectations.
I was in the kitchen getting some water the other night when my two sons, hearing me in the kitchen, came in and spied the loaf of zucchini bread sitting on the counter. It wasn’t long before they asked me for a slice. Summoning my strength, I informed them that it was too late at night to eat something like that so they could have some grapes or something to drink. They chose a glass of milk and decided to go back to their playroom. Now that the zucchini bread had caught my attention, I thought (talked myself into) that a slice wouldn’t be so bad. So, I cut a few pieces and headed up to resume a television show my wife and I were currently binge-watching. As soon as I got upstairs and sat down my wife called the boys up to watch a TV show with us before they went to bed. At first, I felt fine eating the bread I had just warned them away from because I was the adult and therefore, had leeway to do whatever I felt. Then as my sons came up to watch TV, one sat in my recliner with me. I now had to reach around him to eat the zucchini bread he had wanted a short 10 minutes earlier. After I took one small piece as he watched (out of the corner of his eye) I was struck by the hypocrisy I was acting out in front of him. He never said anything or outright stared at me eating, but he knew even better than I did at that moment in time that my words carried much less meaning because of my actions. There I was, justifying the fact that I was doing just the opposite of what I had just told my son he should not do. It hit me right in the face and made me realize how this seemingly little action is the basis for so many larger issues.
How often do we use the phrase “because I said so”? I’m not just talking about around the house, but in education. What about those rules that we tell kids they have to follow? Are they all backed by important safety and learning facts or are they old-thinking, methods of compliance that cause more arguments than we have time for. Even better, do we always comply with or model them for students? The fact that almost everyone is a leader is some form or fashion lends a lot of weight to this topic. However, I find it has even larger implications for those in “official,” visible roles as leaders.
If we fail to model, the disconnect between our message and actions will suppress the desire of others to be part of a larger vision, persevere through hardship, or become leaders themselves. The issue is that so many people watch our actions that we often forget that the smallest stray is often the most noticed. Let’s be honest. The changes required today are often difficult and full of people waiting to see if leaders “practice what they preach” before completely accepting anything new. The good thing is that during those times many leaders are present and aware of all the actions they are taking. The problem is that habits are not born in those public moments, but instead the routine, smaller acts. Once a habit is formed, it becomes difficult to recognize and even harder to break. The important first step is to embrace our vulnerability, admit our inconsistency, and work to rectify the situation.
Oh and that zucchini bread that was so bad for you at that time of night? Yes, there were three unhealthy eaters that night in the Jones household. But there was also a greater understanding and mutual respect for all involved.
Please take a moment and share your thoughts on modeling in the comments below.