You get what you emphasize…

If you work with, live with, travel with, play with, or attempt to lead PEOPLE you already know the challenge of getting behavior you want from the people you work, live, travel, play with – or try to lead.


Someone once asked Leonard Bernstein how he got what he did from the orchestras he conducted.

“I get what I want  –  because I want it,”  he smiled.

Most of us don’t spend much time on the conductor’s podium, even figuratively.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t need, or at least want, certain behaviors from the people around us.

So how do you get the behaviors you want?

I’m no psychologist or anything but pragmatically speaking, I’d like to suggest that we get from others what we emphasize.

Mr Lind coached high school basketball in a small Nebraska town over 35 years ago.  I admired him. He was soft-spoken and gentle, yet exacting. He used a phrase or concept often:  ThaT – was good.  Three words was all it took to tell you coach noticed and coach approved.  Late in the fourth quarter one time, when we stole the ball from our opponents and headed for our end of the floor, fast-breaking for all we were worth, one opponent managed to get between our two players.  Tom put a back-spin on the ball so it SLID on the floor a few feet before Jeff scooped it up and laid it in for two points.  Coach leaped from the bench and remembered in mid-air that it’s a technical foul if the coach stands up on the sidelines (at least that was the rule at the time).   He landed in a crouched position shouting ” Yess!!  THAT was GOOD!!”   The guys smiled and wiped the sweat from their eyes, ready to steal the ball again.  Coach Lind tried to ease from his crouched position back onto the first bleacher without getting called for a technical.  So was that,”  the ref grinned, and put his whistle back in his mouth as he trotted past.   I don’t even remember if we won that game or not.  But I DO remember the way Coach got us to play for him – we felt great when “that was good” was meant for us.

Directing church choirs and orchestras is interesting in that same way.  I want the best from those groups when I lead.  The majority of rehearsal time is spent on fixing mistakes – getting things right.  But these people are volunteers.  Which means if I rant and rave, scream and yell, over time I’ll lose the very group I’m trying to lead.  It doesn’t cost them anything to decide not to come  back next season — or next week.  So I do in a volunteer setting what should be done overall.  I say things like  “Yes – JUST like that.”   or  “Remember how you all did that same pattern in such and such a song?  Do that same thing here.”   Emphasizing what you’re after, identifying the skill or behavior you want, draws it from the people you’re working with.

bassetpuppy_FullWe know it works with puppies we train, don’t we?  It takes lots of  “Good Dog”s, and lot’s of “No-no”s – but the more “Good-Dog”s the better.

I recently witnessed a situation where a manager had an issue with an employee’s attitude.  They talked one on one, which was good. The manager filed a discipline form, which was his prerogative, but then the manager posted a large sign in an employee area anonymously pointing out the negative behavior and scolding that attitude.  It won’t have a positive effect on the staff, I can assure you.  Suspicion will increase,  probably gossip or conjecture as well,  but not positive behavior.  Shaming people into right behavior seldom works long-term.

I’ve been thinking about this concept recently, so smiled to myself when Brenda re-enforced that positive behavior thing — with me.   We both had long days today.   I had a rehearsal tonight, and she had grocery shopping to do. Somewhere in there we needed to have dinner. Talking is important at our house, especially now, with all that’s going on, so I suggested we grocery shop together and pick up something to eat on the way home.  If we have time we can eat-in,  if not we can take it home.   As we pulled into the drive she said to me “Thanks for coming shopping with me.”

“No problem,” I answered, ” it was good talk time.”  And it was, we talked about a lot while we shopped.

Her little compliment is going to bring on more of the same behavior, even when it’s crazy-busy at our house.  Partly because I like being with her, partly because I know she enjoys when I spend time with her like that.

So what kind of behavior are you wanting from the people around you?

Try waiting quietly for something good to happen and as soon as it does say, “Yeah. Like ThaT!  Thanks for ______________. ”

It’s more fun.  Plus it works.
We usually get what we emphasize.


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