Recently, the eldest boy of family friends was showing his younger brother how to do something. It was fascinating, and at times slightly comical, to watch as he demonstrated the action, and then his younger brother emulated the action step by step.
The younger brother wasn’t thinking about what to do; whether it was the correct thing to do, the right way or any other piece of analysis, he just did it. Looking up to his brother, he just followed the leader.
This learning by watching others, particularly those we look up to, doesn’t cease when childhood finishes. It follows into adulthood.
This is Social Learning theory in action. Identified by Psychologist, Albert Bandura in 1977, this theory explains how we learn by observing others. It is suggested that much of our behaviour – as it relates to how we interact with others – is discovered by looking at what those around us are doing. We model and imitate the behaviour of others, with mimicry being an essential part of social bonding. We can even adopt another person’s attitude and their emotional reactions.
Like everything in life, the learning that rubs off can be positive or negative. As J Philippe Rushton suggests, learning by observing others has a powerful influence on prosocial behaviour; that is, behaviour which is positively directed toward others. He notes in the book, The Development of Prosocial Behaviour:
“From the social learning point of view, the degree to which a person engages in prosocial behaviour, as well as the frequency and patterning of that behaviour, is largely the result of the person’s previous learning history. In other words, a person is honest, generous, helpful, and compassionate to the degree to which he or she has learned to be so”.
But just as others influence you, your behaviour can affect others too. When you are in a leadership role or any role which holds power, people will look to your behaviour to see what sets the standard.
No doubt you’ll have heard of phrases such as ‘What you step over you endorse’, ‘The fish rots from the head’ and ‘Set the standard you mean to follow’.
So, let’s turn your attention to the impact you are having on your colleagues and team members.
Challenge yourself and consider:
- Do you know the impact your behaviour has on those on around you?
- Is that impact positive or negative?
- How are you showing up at work? Is your behaviour consistent and aligned with your values?
- Is there a gap between your stated values and your values in action?
And lastly, given this is a self-assessment, have you been too hard on yourself or too easy?
Self-assessments are helpful, but they often lack objectivity. The only way to get a real handle on how you see yourself and the reality of how people experience working with you is to get feedback. And the best process to use is a 360-degree feedback tool.
During my corporate career, I participated in several 360-degree feedback processes. Every assessment tool helped me understand myself better. Sometimes the feedback was easy to take, and other times not so easy. I learned to take an open heart and a curious mind into the process and embrace the learning that arose through the process.
It’s a timely reminder of the words of the American novelist and poet, Wendell Berry, who said: “It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are“.
So, what are you willing to learn about yourself today?