Source: Big Builder Graphics Team 
Source: Big Builder Graphics Team 

In addition to being tired, overweight, and depressed, contestants on The Biggest Loser have one thing in common: they got there because they neglected their own care. Season after season, trainers remind contestants that they can’t be the mom, dad, partner, or friend they want to be until they get their own act together.

The same is true in business. Too often, we get “too busy” growing the company to invest in the culture. The irony is that, just like the overweight single dad who “can’t” find the time to cook and exercise, we are destroying the thing we most want to protect. The truth is, Dad is too busy not to cook and exercise and leaders are too busy not to invest in their own company culture. We cannot give what we don’t have, and leadership is not in a title—it’s in demonstration.

It’s impossible to teach what you don’t have for yourself. So if your company has an ac-countability, dialogue, or trust problem and you struggle with those areas yourself, your team will stay stuck.

Time for an honest gut check. Have you ever implemented a training or performance initiative, told your team it was a crucial investment, and then skipped the trainings or ignored the materials? How involved were you on a scale of 1-10? I understand leaders are busy, but your team is watching. If you want their continual enthusiasm, drive, and commitment, you have to demonstrate yours.

It is possible. Take Liesel Cooper, Executive Vice President at one of our clients, Century Communities, for example. Liesel is as busy as any executive, but rather than saying the initiative is important to her, she attends training sessions, knows the material, and is consistently the most engaged person on the team. She says, “If you don’t demonstrate that you’re willing to do the training, then your team won’t think it is important enough for them to do it. Being able to discuss the material and use examples from it reinforces what they’re learning it and makes the team take it seriously.”

Leadership expert John Maxwell’s Law of the Lid explains the direct relationship between leadership and a company’s effectiveness. Teams and companies will never exceed the standard leadership sets, so it’s up to us to lead by example or our company will stay hindered. Self-help author and speaker Tony Robbins describes it as “the psychological choke-hold for a company’s growth.” Leaders will either quench their company or propel it forward by their beliefs and behaviors. Behaviors are congruent with our beliefs—always. We can work hard to improve our operations, but the company can’t go further than the culture—which is set by leadership. Success comes from psychology, not mechanics.

Titles don’t create leaders: integrity does. Far from being exempt because of our titles, we are actually held to a higher standard because people are watching. There’s a popular adage attributed to Microsoft that says we have to eat our own dog food, which for them meant creating products and services they’d want to use themselves. At Forrest Performance Group, we put this into practice by hiring Hailee, who does for our company what we tell our clients to do for theirs. Hailee focuses on customer experience by calling prospects, conducting surveys and mailing fun, personalized gifts to our clients and their salespeople. Hailee’s role allows us to “eat” our own dog food—happily.

Leading by example is serious business. We must approach initiatives as a long-term commitment, not a flavor of the month. Commitment shapes our lives and demonstrates our values. It starts at the very core. On The Biggest Loser, audiences cheer contestants’ break-through moments—when they break down, rev up the treadmill, and declare it’s time to take care of themselves. These are the contestants who go home and inspire their friends, families, and communities to make changes, too. If we want our companies to go further, we must go further.

We can explore this and other practical actions you can take to improve your company culture at The Housing Leadership Summit, May 11-13, at the Turnberry Isle resort. See you there.