Behaviour Breeds Behaviour


Didier Marlier

June 03, 2016

From Disruption to Engagement

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There was this serious and successful C.E.O. in Brazil who used to take the elevator two or three times in a row, in the early morning so that he could feel the atmosphere and culture of his company. And it wasn’t unusual that the conversation started with some, in the lift, would informally continue in his office on the 20+ floor. Strangely enough, during his tenure, informal conversations, collaboration and pride to belong were flourishing. Roughly at the same period there was this Managing Partner whose assistant had agreed with his driver that he would warn her when they would be 5 minutes away from the office so that she could order the ushers to maintain an empty lift at the parking level so that the leader would not be disturbed in his reading of the Financial Times. The dominant culture was of isolation, internal competition and conditional collaboration.

When a courageous C.E.O. decides to share in front of 150 of his leaders what pushes his defence buttons and why, it instantaneously creates trust, respect and intimacy, better than any training or culture program could ever do. When another leader, nicknamed “Napoleon” by his troops, executes some of his key lieutenants at the opening of the yearly convention, it develops on the sport a culture of fear, isolation and internal competition.

Some psychologists say that “Behaviour Breeds Behaviour”… When I am positive and constructive, it should be no surprise that people around me will open up and respond accordingly. When I am impatient and negative, stress, criticism and aggressiveness will become the norm.

When we add the “Behaviour Breeds Behaviour” to the study of Hay (mentioned several times here) following which 70% of an organization’s culture can be traced back to the behaviours of its leaders (us!) it may start to make sense that, other than strategy sessions, financial review, M&A targets, a very solid part of our job, as leaders is to be seen… behaving! I am always fascinated about of fast and distorted such or such leader’s poor behaviour is being reported. If we do not occupy the behavioural terrain, by living and displaying behaviours which spectacularly and unequivocally demonstrate that we walk the talk of our messages, gossips and negative rumours will fill in the space.

Some philosophers claim that, when he spoke about Logos, Ethos and Pathos, Aristoteles was in fact providing the recipe of Charisma. Leaders of today need to occupy all three terrains:

  • Logos: Being a thought leader or capable to elicit the best out of my people by encouraging them to speak-up, reflect, challenge orthodoxies.
  • Ethos: My behaviours are a clear and unambiguous demonstration of my intentions and of the culture I want to develop in my organization.
  • Pathos: I am accessible, showing empathy and able to ignite positive emotions in my people.

I recently came across this nice experiment made by Coca-Cola (again) in the subway. Nothing scientific but it shows how “Behaviour Breads Behaviour”

Have an excellent week. Mine will be between Brussels, Paris and Villars.


  1. Sandra

    Amazing. So incredible! Nice impact without talking! I was laughing and crying! Thank you for a very nice introduction for the seminar I will have with my team… on behaviour!

    • Didier Marlier

      Good luck with your seminar, dear Sandra. I am delighted the post came in so timely. Take care!

  2. Victor Seco

    In my opinion, this a concept that should be a subject of training for all managers not MBA’s. They need more Engaging Leadership. Thank you for the quote and the video.

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Victor, I hope we can one day recreate corporative education together 😉

  3. Romain Pauliac

    We all experienced how anger atracts anger, pesimism brings pesimsim. This story shows that the same mechanism also works for positive behaviors. It is an invitation for all managers to speak true and be vulnerable, thank you Didier for that. Let’s go to positive magnetism!

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Romain for your comment. Nice to see NEOMA’s MBAs on this blog! I hope you are well.


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