I have lots of different conversations with sales executives. They cover any number of issues:

“Dave, how do I get our people to use the sales process?”

“My people aren’t using the tools we provide them….”

“We need to be more customer focused….”

“We need to create and communicate our value more effectively…..”

“We need people to be more proactive in their territories….”

The list goes on. All of them are about executives trying to drive change in the way their organizations and people work. They struggle with making these things happen.

At some point in these conversations, I usually begin asking questions about the executives’ own priorities and behaviors. For example, “How do you leverage your sales process in your discussions with your people?” or “How are you using your tools to improve your own productivity?”

As you might expect, I get a lot of quizzical looks and questions, “What do you mean? These are things my people need to do, why are you asking about me?”

The reality is the behaviors of our organizations mirror the behaviors and priorities of the leaders.

If we want our people to use the sales process, then every time we do deal or pipeline reviews, we have to conduct these leveraging the sales process. If we want our people to focus more on the customer businesses, challenges, and problems, then we have to stop focusing on asking our people about the transactions. We have to start asking them about the customers and their priorities, as well as what we are doing to address those priorities.

The questions we ask, the things we discuss in meetings, the behaviors we display are all indicators of our priorities and expectations. Our people pay attention to these, and naturally tend to respond or behave in ways that are consistent with what they see us doing.

A number of years ago, I worked with a CEO of a very large organization. It’s performance was deteriorating rapidly. He was a huge multi-tasker, thinking it enabled him to accomplish much more. For example, he would schedule multiple meetings concurrently, moving from meeting to meeting. In those meetings he would constantly be on his smartphone, texting or doing emails.

When he asked me, “Why don’t we seem to be getting things done,” I took him to his computer and had him look at his calendar. He looked at it, shrugged saying, “So what, I’m very productive that way.” I then had him look at the calendars of his direct reports, all of them had taken to scheduling multiple meetings simultaneously. In the meetings he attended with them, he saw they were listening with one ear, preoccupied with texting, emails.

We looked several levels down in the organization seeing the same behaviors.

Everyone was emulating his bad habits of multi-tasking, as a results there was lots of activity, but nothing was being accomplished.

He asked me what to do about it. The solution was simple: Schedule one meeting at a time; stop texting and emailing in the meeting. I added, that he should make sure each meeting had a pre-published agenda.

He struggled with the idea a little, asking, “Which should I cancel?” I told him it didn’t matter. Over time, the most important meetings would bubble to the surface.

Within a month, we saw a huge change in the organization. Simply by changing his own habits, everyone else changed. We started to see more things being accomplished. While they still had a long way to go, a huge part of the problem was the organization was mirroring the CEOs behaviors and spreading the dysfunction throughout the organization. But when he started demonstrating the right behaviors, things started changing quickly.

If we want to drive change in our organizations, the first thing we have to do is change ourselves. Everything we do from our attitudes and behaviors, our priorities, the questions we ask, the things we put on or take off our agendas are critical to driving change.

Our people’s actions, priorities, behaviors will constantly be a reflection of our own. If what we do is inconsistent with what we want them to do, then we will fail.