How to Put Your Best Behavior Forward
It is hard to put our best behavior forward every moment of every day. There are helpful and unhelpful forces at work both inside and outside of us that impact our behaviors. The helpful forces include our conscious thought processes, an attitude open to possibility, and interacting with people that have our best interests in mind. The unhelpful forces include our unconscious thought processes, an attitude closed to possibility, and interacting with people that don’t have our best interests in mind.
Our behaviors are fallible because our brains are fallible. Social scientists have identified the cognitive biases and heuristics that can distort our brain function. Our behaviors can also be unpredictable because our brains carry out unconscious processing of what is happening around us and inside of us. Unconscious brain processing can lead to undesired behavior being carried out before our conscious thought processes have a chance to intervene.
Unconscious brain processing can lead to undesired behavior being carried out before our conscious thought processes have a chance to intervene.
Many psychologists have focused on the role of attitude on behavior. Psychologists define attitude as an expression of favor or disfavor toward a person, place, thing, or event. However, my professional experience points to more than just attitude as a determinant of behavior.
For example, I remember being sent by my employer at the time to a leadership simulation experience at the Center for Creative Leadership. I loved to learn and approached this opportunity with optimism and excitement – so I was good on the attitude scale. The simulation involved a manufacturing company and a problem they were having with production. I remember they were looking for a volunteer to role-play the CEO of the organization. There was a long pause. I really wanted to role-play the CEO, so, when no one else stepped forward, I volunteered to take on the CEO role. When the simulation was over, we learned that this was the first time they had a female CEO for the simulation. Unfortunately, we also learned that we generated by far the worst score for the simulation since they had been running it. Ugh – not the result I had been looking for! So what happened?
I believe that I lost touch with my core values when I was put into the new situation of being a CEO. For example, three of my core values are learning, innovation, and human connection. During the simulation, I interacted solely with my direct reports about the problem. However, if I had applied these core values, then I would have found ways to interact with and learn from more people in the organization. It turns out that this behavior would have led to addressing the problem. I lost touch with my core values because they were not known or accessible to me at that time. I believe that being aware of your core values gives you the confidence often needed to behave in ways that are consistent with those values.
Being aware of your core values gives you the confidence often needed to behave in ways that are consistent with those values.
Not only does access to your core values help when you are in a new situation, but this access also helps during times of stress and when your attitude is not conducive to healthy relationships or helpful contribution. During these times of stress or bad attitude, it helps to get re-oriented with your core values. The most effective way I have found to do this is to transform my core values into what Michael Wilkinson calls “guiding principles” (Michael Wilkinson, The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy, 2011, leadership Strategies Publishing, page 165). Wilkinson’s format for a guiding principle for an individual is as follows: I believe … [value]; therefore, I will … [behavior]. In this format, I can step through my guiding principles and reflect on how each one can help in my current state of stress or bad attitude. As you go through this process of turning to your guiding principles when you need to be re-oriented, you will customize your guiding principles to help you be your best self regardless of what life throws at you.
It is worthwhile to monitor how we behave and the results of how we behave. By increasing our awareness of how we behave and how that behavior impacts others, we can become the kind of person that we want to be and make the kinds of contributions that we want to make in the world. When we aren’t getting desired results, it is time to re-orient to our guiding principles. Remember that the only way to contribute to society is through our behaviors. Our behaviors determine the health of our relationships, our own well-being, and the kinds of contributions we can make in our lives. Our behaviors are everything to the quality of life that we lead. Guiding principles help us put our best behavior forward.
Our behaviors determine the health of our relationships, our own well-being, and the kinds of contributions we can make in our lives. Our behaviors are everything to the quality of life that we lead.
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