When I walk in the morning, I pass a house where a cat lives. Most mornings, the cat comes out to greet me. It rubs up against my leg and seems to be glad I am there, but this is not the most likely explanation. Cats love to rub up against people and things. This movement may involve their entire body or sometimes just their foreheads and cheeks. Most people see this as a sign of affection and welcome this behavior.
When cats rub against objects, they are transferring their scent. It is almost as if they are claiming ownership and we are one of their belongings. A cat head-butting or nuzzling your face deposits scent from glands in their cheek area. Weaving through your legs transfers scent from their sides and tails onto you. This behavior is also an effective way of making sure that they have your full attention.
Cats are basically narcissistic. While we may choose to interpret their behaviors as motivated by affection for us, the reality is they only do what gets them what they want. A pair of Japanese researchers have provided evidence for a fact already known to most cat owners: they can hear you calling their name, but just don’t really care. Since cats don’t control our careers or impact the culture where we live and work, we trade their self-absorbed behavior for the illusion of affection without much consequence. But what if the narcissist in our life is our leader?
Actions we take are, by themselves, mostly amoral. They are neither “bad” nor “good” in the absence of motive. What makes an action moral or immoral is the “why.” When we do something for purely selfish reasons, it is a negative behavior regardless of the way it looks. Like the cat rubbing up against me, on the surface things can look like affection when they are really self-serving.
When people ask about culture change, they often assume there is a list of things that can be done that will result in the healthy culture they are looking for. While some minor change might be accomplished by following basic guidelines about how to treat people, lasting and impactful change always follows true transformation of our motives. We have to believe in what we are doing for it to be meaningful.
When we talk about ways that leaders demonstrate and communicate that they care, the key component is that they actually and truly do care. A leader can “act” like they care about you, metaphorically rubbing you the right way and purring, but not actually care. Eventually, this behavior breaks down and the true intention becomes obvious; you are just another “thing” for them to “own” and use for their self-interest.
Conversely, when our core belief is that everyone is intrinsically and equally valuable, our actions are consistent with our true identity and hold up regardless of the circumstances. Over time, everything we do confirms the truth about our beliefs and builds trust and relationship. This, in turn, improves our quality of life as much as it improves the quality of life for those we lead. As I say all the time, “We can only experience our best life when those around us are experiencing theirs.”
I don’t know if a cat is being honest about their affection or not, but I can usually tell if a person is. I imagine most people can. If a leader chooses to “act” like they care for their own selfish interests, it will show, and people will know. Ultimately, people will not trust or follow a selfish leader. However, if our hearts are honest and we truly care about the people we serve, this will also be apparent, and people will know. This is a leader people will trust. This is a leader people will follow. You cannot pretend to care and fool some people (unless you’re a cat). However, if you truly care about the people you serve, you can create a culture that supports and encourages them to live their best life. For leaders, this is the ultimate goal, and it is The Kimray Way.