The key to managing people is… managing you

The behavioral seeds you sow through your actions and how you carry yourself are what you’ll reap from the people you lead.

Let me unlock the mystery of personnel management for you in eight words.

The key to managing people is managing you.

People take their cues from the person at the top. Whether you are responsible for five people or five thousand, the people you lead will look to you to set the example for what is expected and acceptable in your workplace.

It is not unlike a home, where parents, for better or worse, model the behavior their children will adopt. Just like parents, a leader can’t say “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” and expect the people under them to say, “Well, OK.” It just doesn’t work that way.

Charles Barkley has become a cultural icon because of his role as a television pitchman and his gig as a funny, straight-talking basketball commentator. But early in his Hall of Fame playing career, Sir Charles created quite a stir by famously proclaiming, “I am not a role model” — a statement that became the basis of a TV commercial for Nike.

Barkley had been involved in a series of unflattering incidents on and off the court, and was trying to deflect attention from himself as someone whom young people should emulate. But, try as they might, people in positions of prominence — such as sports figures and leaders in the workplace — can’t escape their roles as role models. The people who look up to them simply won’t let them.

Karl Malone, the former Utah Jazz great who also is an NBA Hall of Famer, years ago chided Sir Charles for his “I am not a role model” comment. In a column written for Sports Illlustrated, Malone said, “Charles, I don’t think it’s your decision to make. We don’t choose to be role models, we are chosen. Our only choice is whether to be a good role model or a bad one.”

The apostle Paul understood this concept. He did not shy away from serving as a role model for people in the early Christian church, but rather embraced it.

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” Paul said.

Paul’s willingness to fill the role model role was critical to the success of the early church. Keep in mind that the Bible did not exist in Paul’s day. There was no employee handbook, so to speak, for how followers of Jesus should act and carry themselves.

The truth is, even today employees don’t turn to their employee handbooks to determine how they should act in their places of work. They look to their leaders as their behavioral guides, both for how they should conduct themselves and how they should interact with their colleagues.

The behavioral seeds you sow through your actions and how you carry yourself are what you’ll reap from the people you lead. So, dear leader, grab a mirror, hold it up to your face and ask a few questions to gauge the types of seeds you are sowing:

  • Do you speak harshly or curtly at times to people, or graciously and with respect? Your words and the manner in which you talk to your people will influence how they speak to each other.
  • Do you exhibit self-control when you’re under pressure or things don’t go as planned, or do you become tense, frazzled and/or unglued? Your response will dictate the atmosphere in your workplace when the inevitable stresses and snags of the work week come to bear.
  • Are you the hardest-working, most conscientious employee in your workplace, or do you routinely come in late and leave early, take long lunches, disappear to the gym, or simply don’t put much effort into your job because you somehow think you’re entitled to kick back now that you’ve moved up the ladder? If it’s the latter, don’t expect the people you lead to give you their best or their all. They’ll never say it to your face, but you can bet they’ll be thinking, “Why should I bust my butt when the boss doesn’t?”

This is only a sampling of questions you might ask yourself in conducting a self-assessment of your leadership style and its impact on your colleagues.

You may be perfectly content with the way your workplace looks, feels and functions. But if not, the place to start to bring about change just may be with you.

Do you have thoughts about this column or a subject you’d like Mark to tackle in a future post? Leave a comment or e-mail him at

3 thoughts on “The key to managing people is… managing you

  1. Excellent message. Simple, practical and yet so true. As I read and pondered your message the word that struck me was, be humble!


  2. Hi Mark, I love this blog and look forward to more perspective from one of my all-time favorite leaders. If you’re in NE Florida anytime soon, I would love to toast your latest success.


  3. Hi Mark, I couldn’t agree more with your commentary. In fact, the Christ said at John 13:15, “For I set the pattern for you, that just as I did to you, you should also do.” And he is the ultimate role model. In fact, it is challenging for a good employee to report to someone who not a good role model or at least willing to adjust or improve their own behavior, which takes humility, as Mark Ludwig so rightly noted.


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