Leadership is a Lot Like Brushing Your Teeth
Updated: Feb 24
A wise man once said, "If your only dental care is going to the dentist twice a year, your teeth will still fall out." Meaning it takes more than two dental check-ups per year to avoid tooth loss. Without other vital daily practices like brushing and flossing, plaque builds up on your teeth, leading to a host of problems such as enamel loss, infections, and cavities. Even though it can be challenging to appreciate the benefits of a proper oral hygiene routine at first, you know that it is the right thing to do for your health in the long run.
Leadership is the same way! Think about it: organizations often conduct off-site gatherings or webinars for their leaders, lining up speakers to help us remember the fundamentals of leadership and apply them in innovative ways. Relying on these off-sites or webinars to keep leaders at the top of their game is akin to going to the dentist only twice a year and expecting perfect dental health. Much like how daily flossing and brushing are essential between dental visits, what happens between each off-site webinar makes the biggest difference in results.
After every off-site or webinar, leaders face a choice: will they internalize and apply the knowledge they just gained, or do they take the path of least resistance and revert to their old ways? Think about the best leader you've ever had – what did they do every day that made being at work a positive experience? Now, think about the worst leader you ever had – what they do every day that made being at work a negative experience? No matter your answer, the common thread between both is the fundamentals of leadership – your best leader applied the sum of his or her leadership knowledge, while your worst did not.
Imagine this scenario: a leader attends a leadership conference and is reminded of the importance of being a role model for their team members. Monkey See, Monkey Do. The leader gains a deeper understanding of how their employees make choices every day based on their own behavior and example. Then, shortly after the conference, the leader badmouths a colleague in front of their team. What are the team members to do? Invariably, they will follow their leader's example. They will see the other leader as incompetent, and relations will break down between the two teams. Even if done subconsciously, employees often feel a sense of loyalty to their leader and adopt similar opinions and viewpoints.
This type of behavior is not only harmful to workplace harmony, but it also hinders their team because their team can only perform at the level of the example set before them. We see this repeatedly, especially in leaders who blame employees for bad attitudes; in most cases, the problem with bad attitudes begins with the leader.
Breaking News! Leaders sometimes make mistakes. Instead of practicing the fundamentals of leadership, they may wear their emotions on their sleeve in front of their team, speak ill of a leader, or hastily send out a shotgun memo instead of confronting one person individually. It's ok: leaders are human and, as such, will make mistakes. What the leader chooses to do next will make the difference.
A good leader will apologize to their team and acknowledge what they did wrong. Then, they will get right back on track and resume leading by positive and constructive examples daily. Making a mistake as a leader is like skipping brushing and flossing for a day because you were ill; when you are better, you continue doing what is right. As with our dental health, doing the right thing every day instead of doing the right thing only twice a year will bring results. Leaders Are MADE, Not Born.