I was recently asked how leaders can build a following. My response involved an extensive exposition on the research and statistics of building credibility. It was clear that I had given too much information when her follow up question was, “and how do I do that?” She wanted practical advice, not theory.
When I thought about this later that evening, I remembered a story comedian Chris Rock once told:
I used to have horrible cars, because I never had money, so I’d always end up broken down on the highway. When I stood there trying to flag someone down, nobody stopped. But when I pushed my own car, other drivers would get out and push with me. If you want help, help yourself—people like to see that.
Chris reminded me that building credibility can be as simple as getting your hands dirty. We all recognize the importance of modeling behavior, but demonstrative behavior is bigger than just acting out the values of your organization. This involves joining line staff to exhibit your willingness to get into the muck of things.
It can be humbling to work in areas that are not so familiar, but it gives you an opportunity to show interest in what your team does, learn their daily challenges, and show appreciation for how hard they work. Additionally, when a leader shows that they are not above the grunge work, this sends a message to all leadership and staff that they are not above it either.
In Simon Sinek’s recent book Leaders Eat Last, he discusses the story of an officer in the Marine Corps. This officer always made sure that his men ate first. After dinner one night, there was no food left for him. Without prompting, his men took food off their plates to ensure that this officer would have dinner.
These Marines did not give the officer food out of fear or obligation; they did it because he had built a reputation of taking care of his people. He showed a readiness to sacrifice his comfort for theirs. This was a demonstrative behavior.
There are numerous examples of leaders who roll up their sleeves to spend time in the less glamorous tasks of the organization. So why are you still sitting there? Get up and congregate with the masses. Show them that you are willing to push that broken down car down the road. You’ll be amazed at how many jump in to help.