Be the picture of what you expect

Published 9:57 pm Thursday, December 7, 2017

By Elaine Lankford

Any of us who have had a child in our life, whether our own child or someone else’s, has probably seen that child copy the behavior of an adult — like the little boy who mows the grass with his toy lawn mower, just the way Dad does, or the niece who attempts to dress up like her favorite aunt.

Kids are extremely observant, and they have the tendency to pick up both our good and bad behaviors. Scary, right?

Email newsletter signup

Those little sponges of ours watch us all the time, and copying our behavior is how they learn. The same is true in business. Followers are always watching the leader, and for the most part, whatever the leader tends to do (e.g., be punctual, be gracious, be inconsistent, be arrogant), followers will tend to do as well.

That’s why the Law of the Picture is so important. In “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” by John Maxwell, this principle states: “People do what people see.”

As a leader, what picture are you painting? And, if our image is correct, how do we make the picture come to life in a way that inspires those we lead?

John has observed over the years that great leaders are both highly visionary, seeing beyond the current state, and highly practical, understanding that vision without action is only a fleeting thought.

To connect vision to action — so that others not only understand the vision, but also become motivated to make it a reality — these leaders become experts in communicating the vision while modeling it.

For instance, take the Life is Good T-shirt company. Company leaders decided to build a brand of T-shirts that express an optimistic viewpoint. While the company could have stopped there, its leadership team was determined to be in the business of spreading optimism, not just a clothing line.

In modeling their desire to create environments in which optimism could flourish, using a portion of their profits, they also established the Life is Good Kids Foundation. This foundation supports and trains the employees of children’s organizations that care for some of the most vulnerable kids in the world.

I can’t imagine the pride their employees have!

In addition, there are a few other pieces of advice we should remember:

  • It’s easier to teach what’s right than to do what’s right. Remember when you were a kid and you caught your parents doing something they had told you not to do a thousand times? Remember what they said: “Do as I say and not as I do”?

As leaders, it’s extremely important that we are practicing what we preach. We won’t always get it right, but we should at least strive for it. And when we mess up, we need to confess it and move on.

  • We should work on changing ourselves before trying to improve others. Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “It is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself.”

Walking around, demanding a high level of workmanship from our employees while we cut corners is like hanging a picture in a cracked frame. Leaders who are willing to work on their own faults will only improve the chances of their followers doing the same.

  • Last, the most valuable gift a leader can give is being a good example. Period.

Today, I challenge you to have someone you trust observe your behaviors for one to two days. Then sit down and chat about it. Is the picture that your leadership paints an original Picasso or a forgery? The choice is yours.

Elaine Lankford is a John Maxwell certified coach, teacher, trainer, and speaker. She is the founder of Transforming Love Ministries LLC and a board member of the Christian Business Coalition of Hampton Roads. Email her at