Is Popeye a Good Leadership Role Model?

Today we can identify the science behind what we used to call vibes. We now know why Steve gives off a good vibe and Julie has a negative vibe. Research from Boyatzis at Case Western, Glasser, Newberg and Waldman and others now demonstrate how our brains and our bodies react to communication. And as a result we can document the impact on how teams perform.

No longer can a leader not be responsible for their communication style. In my talks I often share the response we have to the word “No.” It is a release of a whole host of chemistry that literally shuts us down, We become less collaborative, less cooperative and less creative. And we communicate the equivalent of “no” when we check our email as an employee is speaking with us. Or when we have a scowl on our face as we are thinking about the difficult conversation we need to have elsewhere in the organization in three hours.

And we now know that when we build cultures of trust and use language and phrases of trust we can get the opposite. People fill up with chemistry that opens up the creative, collaborative, cooperative part of our brains. Phrases like:

  • I trust your judgement.
  • I’ve got your back.
  • I forgive you.

These are all example of language that changes the brain chemistry. AND IT’S NOT NEW! Dale Carnegie used to talk about it in in his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” In Chapter six where he says,

“Little phrases such as:

  • “I’m sorry to trouble you,”
  • “Thank You,”
  • “Would you mind,”

These phrases lead to making people like you and more willing to help you. He did not have the “science” behind it but he sure had human behavior pegged. And this was in 1936.  People are still people.

As leaders you are responsible to your teams. They look o you to get sense of where they stand in relation to the team. Are they on it? Are they valued? Is the team succeeding? And the way YOU Show up as a leader has a physical impact on how they respond. And the “Popeye” approach is irresponsible. The Popeye approach is the leader that says, “I am who I am and that’s just the way I am.”

As an example there was a team of 11 I worked with a few years ago. The manager of the team had the words down and could turn on the charm. But over time his self-orientation leaked out. And it became clear that as long as he could get his bonus he was going to drive the team to burn out. This led to two consequences. One was a multi-million dollar multi-year deal lost. The buyer was saying they would execute as soon as they completed another project (60 days). Let’s call him Jim, went around this buyer and pushed another connection in the organization to give him a small slice of business now so that Jim could hit his monthly number. When the first buyer found out she pulled the larger deal away and gave it to a competitor.

The second consequence was that Jim had a turnover rate of 78% within his sales team. My friend Kyle says, “One of the most expensive things organizations do is hire new people to keep filling the same role.”

Jim will tell you that he recognizes the impact his communication is having AND that he is who he is…Popeye the sailor man.


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