There is a tool I developed that I’ve now introduced to thousands of leaders in my keynotes. Leaders report that using this tool is often a turning point in their relationship with someone. It’s called the Leader’s Creed Challenge.
This challenge is very simple, but, as you’ll see in a moment, it’s not easy. For many, it’s extremely uncomfortable. That’s why it’s called the Leader’s Creed Challenge.
You’ll need a partner.
A partner is someone with whom you would strongly agree with the following statement: it is very important to me that this person is engaged and committed one year from now.
Write down the names of the people on your “team” who you really want to be engaged and committed one year from now.
Who would you add to this list if you expanded the definition of your team to include anyone who is an important part of your life? I suspect that you’d like your family members to be engaged and committed members of your team too, right?
Congratulations, you’ve completed the first step to the Leader’s Creed Challenge!
The first time I did a live test-drive of the Leader’s Creed Challenge with a partner, the partner I chose was not a team member from work.
That partner was my seven-year-old son. It was Father’s Day.
When I created the first version of the Leader’s Creed Challenge, I recall thinking, “Why is it that most parents would say they love their children, but not all children feel loved?”
What if we could look at the specific behaviors that make up a good relationship, then ask a partner how they think we are doing with those behaviors?
Whether you think you are a good leader of a family, a business, or even a team is irrelevant. The only question that matters is this: do you have a good relationship in the eyes of your partners?
Men, myself included, are more likely to be unaware of serious problems in their personal and professional relationships. That’s one reason why twice as many women as men file for divorce, and in marriages where the wife is college-educated, women initiate the divorce 90 percent of the time. And according to the world’s top researcher into marriage and divorce, John Gottman, Ph.D., the primary predictor of marital satisfaction is the man’s behavior. You could say the same about employee satisfaction by substituting “boss” for man. You’re probably aware of the old saying “People don’t leave jobs; they leave bosses.”
That’s why the Leader’s Creed Challenge is powerful in family relationships as well as in work relationships or any partnership that is important to you. If you’re not comfortable doing the Leader’s Creed Challenge at work, try it with your spouse or partner at home. If you’re not comfortable taking the challenge with your spouse, try it with someone at work, a child, a parent, or a close friend.
You’ll notice below that nine of the 10 statements are exactly the same, regardless of whether you are speaking the Leader’s Creed to your spouse, your child, or someone on your team.
The First Nine Statements of the Leader’s Creed
- I demonstrate kindness and respect toward you in ways that you can see and hear.
- I listen when you speak.
- I am aware when I hurt you, and I apologize when I do.
- I show interest in your career and development as a person.
- I demonstrate how to respectfully request changes in the behavior of others, including my requests of you.
- With my words and actions, I build you up rather than tear you down.
- I effectively communicate my emotions and needs and create a safe place for you to communicate yours.
- I express anger appropriately.
- I surround us with people who enhance our lives, and distance us from people who don’t.
The first time I did the Leader’s Creed Challenge, I grabbed a pen and introduced the idea to my seven-year-old son while tucking him into bed.
You can use these words as a basis for introducing the Leader’s Creed Challenge to someone in your life.
“Hey buddy, I want to be a great dad. To help me to be the best dad I can be, I have some questions that I’d like to ask you. Are you ready?”
He hesitated, then said, “Okay.”
“It’s really important to me that you’re honest and tell me what you really think. I want to know what I can do to be better, okay? You know you can always tell me anything, right?”
“Okay. Here’s how it works. I am going to read a sentence, then I am going to ask you: on a scale of 1 to 10, how strongly do you agree with that statement? Ten is completely agree and one is totally disagree. Here’s the first sentence: I listen when you speak.”
I paused for about five seconds to let him think about it, then asked, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how strongly do you agree with that statement?”
“Six,” he said.
“Six?!” I looked at him sideways, raising an eyebrow. “SIX!!! SIX!!!” I laughed and tickled him.
“I really appreciate you being honest, buddy. I can imagine it takes some courage to say six. I really appreciate it. So, I’ve got another question for you. What would be the difference between a six and a nine? What would you suggest that I start doing, or stop doing?”
“Well, you do look at your phone a lot when I’m talking,” he said.
“You’re right. I do look at my phone a lot. Here’s what I’m going to do. I am going to put my phone in the bedroom from six to eight o’clock every night. I’m going to write down your responses and what I’m committed to doing differently so that we can look at how we improve every year on Father’s Day. Is that okay with you?”
While he watched, I spoke aloud what I wrote on the worksheet: “Six. I will put my phone in the bedroom every night from six to eight o’clock.
“Now, sometimes I look at my phone and I don’t even realize it. Would you be open to helping me out? If I’m looking at my phone instead of listening to you, you have my permission to say, ‘Dad, you’re looking at your phone again!’ It might be uncomfortable to tell me that, especially if other people are around. So maybe we have a secret code word. If you could pick a funny code word, what would you choose?”
“Purple elephant,” he responded.
“Okay, in the future, if you say ‘purple elephant,’ then I will hear ‘Dad, you’re looking at your phone.’”
I wrote purple elephant code word on the worksheet.
We continued through the 10 statements of the Father’s Creed. What I found most useful was taking notes of exactly what he said using his own words, and the actions that I committed to taking, so that we could review them together the following year.
“Okay, buddy, we’re almost at the end. Here’s that last one,” I said.
“I demonstrate love, kindness, and respect toward your mother with my words and actions, even when she is not around. What would you say about that one, on a scale of one to ten?”
“Nine,” he said.
That was one of the proudest moments since my divorce. How you treat the mother (or father) of your children will become the unconscious baseline of what your children will expect—and accept—in their romantic relationships. Married or divorced, the parameters of your relationship will become the default setting for your kids.
The 10th Statement of the Leader’s Creed
The 10th statement is slightly different depending on whether you are reading the Leader’s Creed to your spouse (the Couple’s Creed), or to your child (the Father’s Creed and the Mother’s Creed).
The Leader’s Creed: With my words and actions, I demonstrate kindness and respect toward coworkers, customers, and business partners, even when they are not around.
The Couple’s Creed: With my words and actions, I demonstrate love, kindness, and respect toward our family members, even when they are not around.
The Father’s Creed: With my words and actions, I demonstrate love, kindness, and respect toward your mother, even when she is not around.*
The Mother’s Creed: With my words and actions, I demonstrate love, kindness, and respect toward your father, even when he is not around.*
* Note that this statement applies even if you are not married to the mother or father of your child. In fact, showing leadership in this area is not only more difficult, but it is also more important to the emotional development of your child.
The Leader’s Creed at Work
While the story above illustrates how to do the challenge with a family member, the process is pretty much the same with a team member at work.
The reason the Leader’s Creed Challenge is so powerful is that these statements are in the present tense, and you are making concrete commitments to your partner during the challenge.
It’s very important to use the wording of the Leader’s Creed exactly. There is a very important difference between asking someone whether they agree with the statement “I listen when you speak” compared to “I have good listening skills.” If I disagree that you have good listening skills, it’s easier for you to rationalize away my judgment of your listening skills. Or maybe I will say that you have good listening skills—I’ve seen you listen to others—but you don’t listen to me.
And ultimately, whether someone has the ability to listen is irrelevant if they don’t listen to you, right?
These subtle wording differences are the reason why the Leader’s Creed can catalyze a deeper desire in people to change.
Adapted from 22 Talk SHIFTs: Tools to Transform Leadership
Looking for more excellent parenting advice? Check out “How Unplugging From My Phone Improved My Relationship With My Son…And My Life.”