While I was waiting to board a plane recently, I overheard the following conversation between two men in the gate area, who were airline pilots. I’ll call them Harry and Joe because I don’t know their real names.

Harry: The practices of this airline continue to amaze me! Four weeks ago, I put in for a slight adjustment to my posted schedule to change out the first day and add it on to the end. Despite more advanced notice than required, and finding a replacement, I was denied. They are just begging to see if I’ll call in sick.

Joe: Sorry to hear that.

Harry: It really amazes me they would do that. I’ve had strong service, never a bad report, always on time and they still deny a simple request like this. I really don’t know what motivates them to do so.

Joe: Sorry to hear that. (I am sensing Joe is just being polite at this point.)

Harry: I mean, what are they trying to prove? They are really baiting me to call in sick and then they will have the chance to write me up like they do with so many other really good employees.

Joe: That’s too bad.

I was amazed how this conversation continued like this for at least 10 more minutes!

It is really unfortunate that I seem to hear conversations like the one above more frequently these days. I have unintentionally overheard co-workers in a retail store check-out line talking about how many more hours they have to “endure” at work. And occasionally, I will catch an exchange between two or more consultants— often on cell phones in a public place such as an airport, restaurant, or at a social event—discussing sensitive issues they are having with a client. That’s fine, until they name the client and disrespect them in their public discussion, without any care regarding who might be listening.

I’m sure you have a recent example of a similar conversation or two you can reference.

I wonder if these people are even aware or care that others can be within earshot.

And it got me thinking – are we aware of the impact our “out loud” or public conversations have on those around us? In Harry’s case, he certainly wasn’t aware of the poor image he was casting on his airline employer.

What behavior do we exhibit as leaders? Do we want that behavior modeled by others? You’ve heard the old adage, “People do what people see.” In this case, what they are “seeing” is the leader speaking negatively about the organization that pays the salary and benefits he welcomes each pay period.

What ripple effects do our “public conversations” have on things such as:

  • employee loyalty
  • employee engagement
  • taking initiative to make something better
  • taking ownership for achieving a particular result

As a leader, what can you do to model the behavior you want others to follow? As Gandhi so eloquently said, “Be the change you want to see.” So how can you coach and influence your team to be aware of the impact of their “public conversations” with both their peers and others?

​​​​​​​What ideas about modeling positive behavior could you add to this discussion? I’d be happy to share them “out loud” with my readers.

Best regards,

Bill