In one of the emails I regularly receive from a great dog trainer, Eric Letendre, he reminds dog owners not to reward bad behavior with positive results. For example, if you don’t want your dog jumping on people when they come in your house, then don’t let him jump on you when you come home and get rewarded with petting, hugging and talking baby talk. That rewards the wrong behavior (something of which I am terribly guilty because I’m just as happy to see my dog when I get home as she is to see me).
The same holds true for people. If someone is doing something to get attention and that something is wrong or socially unacceptable, then don’t give the reward of the attention they seek.
What reminded me of this yesterday – not attention seeking, but rewarding wrong behavior – came from my people watching at a great conference session in a room full of geeks. Displayed up on large screens for all to see between presentations were several charts showing real-time tweets from the sessions along with graphs and a list of the top tweeters. While I’m sure the vast majority of tweets about the sessions were relevant, good, and worthwhile, I have to question recognizing the person who tweeted the most. What guarantee is there that this person’s tweets brought any value to the experience? Why not recognize those who seem to best capture most concisely the content offered? Why not reward those who extend the conversation going on in the session by providing insightful application of the ideas or deeper questions to pursue?
Leaders need to ask themselves the question “What is the behavior we want to encourage in others?” Then follow that with a process for determining how to reward appropriate behavior positively. Activity by itself is rarely a valid goal. Deciding what we want to accomplish in the end and rewarding activity that helps us get there is a more noble effort.
In your personal or professional life, remember leap year lesson #68 – Don’t reward wrong behavior.