American actress Mae West is quoted as saying, “The best way to behave is to misbehave.” That may have worked for Mae West, but it won’t work on the job. Most companies want behavior that inspires productivity, performance, and, of course, profit.

Defined as observable activity in people and animals, behavior can be broken into five categories:

1. Behavior is observable. An employee comes in late, doesn’t complete assigned tasks and takes every opportunity to enjoy a break. As a manager, you observe these behaviors and probably get ticked off. Your emotions get you grumbling, making comments to stimulate a change and adding stress to your life.

But do you take action? Wait. Don’t let your emotions rule. Instead, observe these behaviors and put a plan in place to find out why the employee is acting this way. There may be a logical reason.

2. Behavior is situation-based and can vary from one situation to the next. The person who is a star employee in one situation can be dead weight in another. If someone’s performance varies that much, you need to stop and assess the situation to determine what causes the variance.

Does the new task require a giant performance leap? Have you truly given adequate and proper direction? Have you allowed the opportunity to ask questions?

3. Behavior can be flexible, even within a single situation. You give an employee a task and feel he’s on the right path, then you notice things aren’t getting done. Flexible behavior can indicate a variety of things, including lack of knowledge, lack of motivation, reluctance to change, or other problems that require further investigation.

4. Behavior is dynamic and always changing. While psychologists may say behavior patterns are set at a very young age, we continue to change and adjust our behavior throughout our lives. Family situations, financial crises, physical or mental challenges and something as simple as boredom all affect our behavior.

Is the once-dynamic employee bored with her job? How about your fantastic team leader? Have you made changes that are negatively affecting his performance?

5. Our behavior is based on our thoughts and beliefs. Pause for a moment and think back to when you were a teenager. Do you have the same beliefs today? Probably not, particularly if you’re the owner of the business, and you’re trying to motivate your employees to have the same degree of enthusiasm you have. Could anyone but you motivate you when you were a teenager? No. You were motivated when someone inspired you to complete a task or take on a new job.

As a leader, your job is to inspire employees so they have the same vested interest in doing a great job and moving the company forward as you do.

Leader, heal thyself first

When you look at these five categories, remember, as the leader, when inappropriate behavior gets in the way, you own part of the problem. It may be only five percent, but it’s a part. When you tackle behavior issues, recognize your contribution and deal with it first.

Did you communicate what you wanted clearly? Did you wait to respond to questions for clarification? Are your procedures clear and still appropriate for the changing work environment? Are you an absent leader?

The admonition lead by example is as old as time, but it’s still true. Discover the problem, keep your emotions in check and put a plan in place. Your people need to see you and hear you. Your behavior has to match what you’re expecting of others.

Attitude has many meanings

Make sure you define the problem behavior correctly. Have you ever grumbled about an employee having a poor attitude? Attitude is an umbrella word. It’s not behavior. It has many meanings, depending on who’s using the word.

To you, attitude means the employee doesn’t care about his work; to your customer, it means she receives slow service at the counter; and to your employee, it means no one seems to care what he does. In the employee’s mind, the boss’s attitude needs work. Who looks at your behavior and asks for corrections?