Though words and promises can be compelling, the true measure of a person is not what they say but rather what they do. Following a leader’s actions is much easier than believing promises – especially if they change based on the audience. We must measure our leaders NOT by what they say but rather by what they do (or what their actions initiate) – and recognize that those we lead will use the same litmus to measure our decisions, actions and thoughts. A zebra does not lose its stripes nor does a leopard lose its spots. Why do so many leaders believe that they can get away with a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude?
How can you expect your employees to adhere to an “eight to five” schedule if your own day frequently begins at eight fifteen or ends at four thirty? (Forget about the fact that you might have been doing company business the previous night, or that lunch was more of a thought than an action or that breaks are not part of the daily routine…people SEE you coming in late, or leaving early, and expect that to apply to them, too.) I once worked for an organization whose engineering group participated in a Thursday afternoon golf league. When things were going smoothly and all was running well, this was not a real problem BUT if an engineering problem on Thursday afternoon caused a disruption in production that forced employees to work over the weekend it was PERCEIVED that “engineers were never around and did not care if production employees had to give up their private lives just so that they could play golf.” Perception often becomes reality when we choose a leadership role – and we must be vigilant to consider our integrity and how our choices might be viewed prior to taking any actions. Parents tell their children to obey the rules (as they break the speed limit driving them somewhere), to respect their teachers (as they complain about the “boss that does not know anything”), and to take time to enjoy life (when they are “too busy doing their own thing” to play catch in the yard).
True leaders do not worry about what they say to one group when speaking to another – they portray a consistent, predictable “story” to whomever they address. They are not “flavor of the month” thinkers – rather they are grounded in their principles, driven by their values and willing to reveal themselves to anyone seeking to know more about them. Individuals striving to become leaders (rather than struggling to be managers) would be wise to remember:
1) Words are but whispers when compared to the shouts of our actions. We more often believe what we see than what we hear. Regardless how you work with people, those around you establish their perception of you by what you do – by how you act – not by the things you say. We may try to reinvent ourselves with words, polish and packaging – to sound intelligent or authoritative, to discourage challenges to what we want to do through our projected confidence – but we are no more than we appear to be to others – often unable to accomplish anything more than we are willing to do ourselves.
2) Look for the good in others, publicly praising their positive actions and interactions while privately addressing their attitude and enhancing their abilities. People usually see what others do wrong – rarely recognizing or acknowledging what they do right. Unfortunately, teachers rarely say to their students, “You are really extending your thinking today!” Rather it is, “Do not bother the student next to you as he/she is trying to work,” “Could you help ‘Jamie’ with his work when you have done?” or “If you have finished, find something quiet to do while I work with the rest of the class.” While we need to provide help to those requiring it – and to address and constructively correct negative behavior – we should ALSO make an effort to acknowledge and verbalize appreciation for things done well through our words AND our actions.
3) It is better to compromise than to criticize – to live in the house you have built through your actions than in the rubble of another’s house you destroyed with your words. Criticism is destructive. Competent leaders do not tear others down to make themselves look better. One cannot lead if pushing from behind – leadership leverages the abilities of all to move the group into a singular direction that benefits the whole upon a road planned with good intentions and paved with sweat equity.
4) Look inwardly when assigning blame. People often defend their inappropriate actions by shifting blame to others. Rarely does an individual come out and say, “It was my fault.” Far more often it is, “Sam over there did something much worse than I would ever do. Address him before you talk to me.” If speeding, how often do we rationalize our actions by saying, “I was going the same speed as everyone else” rather than recognizing that doing something wrong cannot be “made right” JUST BECAUSE everyone else was doing it. When we measure ourselves against the actions of others, we will never truly see value in what we may have done (nor the full cost of what we may have done wrong) – we see only the relative value of how our actions compare to another’s.
5) Judge yourself using the same standards you apply to others. The greatest leaders of our times would never ask others to do what they would not do themselves. Truly great generals lead their troops into battle rather than following them from behind. Parents must “walk the talk” for their children – allowing them to follow the example of a role model rather than try to be someone or something they can only imagine possible. Managers cannot expect full productivity without giving it themselves.
Rather than distributing consequences, we should seek truth. We should focus more on what we are doing than on what others may not be doing. We should lead by example rather than by edict – expecting others to do as we do rather than as we tell them to act. Viewing life through the lens of relativity will never provide personal fulfillment – only a sense of “better than” whomever we are comparing ourselves to (or possibly worse than someone else).