Leadership: There is no Misbehavior

February 16, 2020
Wally Bock





Those are just a few of the words my first and second grade teachers used to describe me. Again and again, they asked my mother to come down to school to discuss my “misbehavior.”

My mother never got a college degree. She dropped out of school and went to work to help support the family in the Depression. Even so, she was one of the best non-professional psychologists I’ve ever encountered. The teachers found her a little troublesome, too.

“There is no misbehavior, there is only behavior.”

That’s what Mom said when they described what I did as misbehavior. She often went on to explain what she meant.

“People, including Wally, do things for their reasons. Let’s see if we can find out why Wally does what he does so you can find ways to get him to do what you want.”

Remember that if you’re a leader. All work is voluntary. You can’t “make” someone do anything. You can’t “compel” them to do anything. You can deliver consequences until your tongue falls out, but if they’re willing to take the consequences, they will do what they choose. Use these four questions to sort out why people who work with you might not be doing what you want them to do.

Do They Know How?

It’s astounding how often we ask people to do things that they’ve never been trained to do. We ask them to do things that they haven’t done for decades. We ask them to do things that “everybody knows how to do.”

Ask whether they know how. Talk with them. Ask them to describe how they’ll do what you ask.  Have them demonstrate to you what they want to do. If they don’t know how, nothing else you do will matter. So, teach them to do things the right way and coach them.

Are They Confident They Can Do the Job?

Sometimes, people know all the right things to do. They just can’t quite do them. As my friend, Rod Santomassimo, says, again and again, “Don’t KID yourself. Knowing Isn’t Doing.”

If you’ve got somebody who’s got a knowing/doing gap on something you want done, you need to coach them. Help them get some small wins. They’ll develop confidence by doing the right thing. Pretty soon, they’ll do what you want without close support.

Do They Have the Resources They Need?

Does the person have the money and other resources he or she needs to do what you want? I’m amazed at how few times leaders investigate this. A person may have a great work attitude. He or she may pitch in to help whenever there’s work to be done.  They may know how to do the work. But if they don’t have the resources to do the job, that motivation is wasted.

So, ask if they have the money/budget they need. Ask if they have the time they need. Ask them if they understand the priority. Ask them if they need cooperation that may be hard to get.

What If They Still Don’t Do What You Want?

You will encounter people in your leadership life who have the knowledge, confidence, and resources to do the job, but who won’t. That’s a tough issue.

Sometimes it’s temporary. If you’ve ever worked with someone going through a divorce, or the death of a loved one, or severe trauma, you’ll recognize this right away. They’re good workers. They just can’t muster the mental energy to do the work you want them to do. All their mental energy is going into something else that you can’t affect. When that happens, you must decide if you’re willing to support the person through their tough spot.

Some people aren’t in the right job. They may have all the tools they need, but there’s something else working in them. It’s usually something you can’t affect. You’ll also encounter people who will never have the right job. They see their role as rebelling against authority or something like that. You can’t touch them, either.

You must get those people out of the team before the contagion spreads. Do enough coaching to be sure that the person is a poor fit. Then, follow the rules and help them find a better place either where you work or somewhere else.

Bottom Line

There is no misbehavior, there is only behavior. If you have someone who’s not doing what you want them to do, ask a few questions. Do they know how to do the work? If they don’t, teach them. Do they have the confidence to do the work? If they don’t, coach them. Do they have the resources to do the work? If they don’t, give them the resources or change your expectations. If nothing works, help the person find a better place.

More From Wally Bock

4 C Vitamins for Better Leadership

Prepare the Way for Your Gemba Walk

3 Reasons Why Great Bosses Aren't Bossy

In addition to writing the Three Star Leadership blog, Wally Bock is an author, ghostwriter, writing coach and book doctor. In his past lives he has run a small publishing company, been a popular keynote speaker to audiences around the world, and served as a U. S. Marine. He loves good beer, good friends, and good stories.

You may also like

Join the conversation