Stacey Hanke

By Stacey Hanke

How Bad Behavior Costs You Influence

How Bad Behavior Costs You Influence 150 150 Stacey Hanke

Business leaders need influence in the workplace. Their personal and organizational success depends on it. Influence is essential in motivating peers and employees to willingly act on what you have to say. It raises morale, strengthens dynamics, improves productivity, and provides clarity. Without influence, people won’t follow. Without followers, goals become difficult to achieve.

Unfortunately, many leaders fail to realize that their level of influence is impacted more by how they behave than by what they have to say. Studies show that social behavior plays a vital part in how leaders influence their team. Most leaders I’ve worked with believe they have more influence than they do. They fail to recognize that while their words have power, their behavioral actions continually undermine the messages they share. Like the saying “actions speak louder than words,” how we behave is how others respond.

Your level of influence is the result of how others experience you to be. If you are always distracted and/or on your phone during conversations, others experience you as dismissive and inattentive. If you, as a leader, are always showing up late to work or meetings, people see you as unorganized and unreliable. The perception others make from observing your behavior results in the reputation that follows you. As a leader, it also sets a precedent that your actions are acceptable in the workplace, thus creating a cascading effect of bad employee behaviors. Leaders set the example of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior among those they wish to influence. Employees will do, or attempt to get away with, what they see leaders demonstrate.

I once worked with a leader who shared frustration over their employees’ overuse of smartphones in meetings. They believed that their team was distracted and not fully engaged in the necessary conversations. As it came time to observe actions during the team meeting, I discovered the leader was always distracted and on his smartphone. He was rarely fully engaged in the conversation led by his team. It became obvious that the team’s behavior was a direct result of the leadership’s actions. In fact, the Harvard Business Review discovered more than one-third of employees were likely to mimic the bad behaviors of those they work with.

Influence is earned every day, within every interaction. Even as a participant, your actions and behavior are being observed. The key to knowing how others perceive you lies in self-awareness. This self-awareness is an essential leadership trait because it provides the clarity necessary to make changes. This mirror reflection gives leaders a glimpse of how their actions influence the actions of others.

I am always surprised at how many executives I work with who fail to see how others experience their behavior and how it impacts their ability to produce results consistently. It’s human nature for us to believe that how we feel on the inside is how others perceive us. The opposite is typically true. It’s what others observe in our actions and behavior that shapes their perception of who we are.

Take these three steps to understand how you are perceived and where you need to change:

Seek feedback

Many leaders refrain from asking for others’ feedback because they equate it to criticism when, in fact, feedback presents the opportunity for improvement. It sheds light on the reality often overlooked. Getting the right kind of feedback is the key to learning.

Find someone you trust: a co-worker, colleague, friend or peer who will tell you the truth. Ask how you’re perceived and experienced by others. Request specifics. Don’t settle for general statements that fail to offer insight into areas where you need to improve. Ask what habits and traits you demonstrate that are distracting or unappealing. This type of feedback will provide you the necessary awareness to correct the behavior.

Eliminate excuses

Your title or level of authority does not provide you a free pass for bad behavior. If you want your team to behave one way, it’s up to you to lead the way. Succeeding at anything requires accountability and commitment. When you’ve sought feedback, it’s important to do something with what you’ve learned and follow through on the necessary corrective actions. This part is particularly tough because, even when we know what we should be doing, it’s the doing with which we struggle.


Creating new habits requires mindfulness and intention. If you’ve heard that your smartphone use appears to make you look disengaged or distracted, plan to leave it behind. Remove the temptation altogether. If habitual tardiness threatens to make you look disorganized, prepare ahead of time. Leave home earlier. Give yourself more time in-between meetings to reset and adjust. Utilize your calendar and alarms to better schedule your day and keep you focused on the time. Either way, practice the behaviors necessary to correct what is negatively perceived in your actions today.

Leaders lead. They lead by example — an example set by the consistent behavior and actions demonstrated every day. These actions set the course for others to follow and determine the culture, morale, and behavior that others display. If you want to have the level of influence necessary to succeed, begin first by looking inward. Become aware of your behaviors and act to improve where needed. Through your actions, your team will perceive a change and therefore change accordingly.