As a leader, what you do matters – more than you might imagine. Your colleagues, your team, and your direct reports are all paying attention to what you say and do. When your words and behaviors are in alignment, people view you as a person of integrity and will give you their absolute best. If there is a disconnect between what you say and what you do, people will always give more weight to what you do – and respond accordingly. Why? Because people understand at an intuitive level the truth expressed by James Sipe and Don Frick in their classic book Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership: “We reveal what we believe by what we do.”
It is easy to come up with extreme examples of this truth in action. For instance, if a leader supports the company value of “Respect” in public settings, but demeans and belittles everyone on her team in private, she clearly does not respect people at all. But there are many examples of this type of disconnect that are much more subtle. These are the ones to be especially alert for because they undermine good companies, good leaders, and good teams, slowly eroding businesses over time.
Consider this scenario. An application development company has a programming guru on staff. He is an absolute wizard with code, but consistently refuses to collaborate with his co-workers. His colleagues have brought this up to their VP again and again, pointing out that they have ideas and insights that would have made the apps he developed even better.
The VP agrees that collaboration is a vital component of innovation and promises to address the issue. He does, in fact, have several conversations with the programming guru, providing clear – even stern – feedback. Each time, the guru shrugs off the reprimand and continues to do his own thing.
The team members see this and finally give up pushing for collaboration. The negative influence in the work environment affects their motivation and creativity. The flow of new ideas dries up. Over the next year, person after person leaves the team. Their exit interviews all reflect the same concern: “We talk about collaboration, but we don’t do it. I’m going to a company where they practice what they preach.”
In this example, the VP is not a bad leader. He wants to promote collaboration. He goes so far as to have tough conversations with the problem team member. However, because he does not apply consequences, nothing changes. Or rather, something does change: the rest of the team decides that the VP believes collaboration is not important enough to insist upon – and so they leave.
If your team or company is hampered by issues or seems to be slogging through mud, take time to evaluate your actions and what they tell you about what you really believe. You might find there the root of your problems. Here are several examples, with links to additional information on each topic:
- Are you failing to address a toxic employee because you believe you can’t risk losing the revenue they bring to the business?
- Do you micromanage your people because you believe they will not do the delegated tasks to your satisfaction?
- Are you resisting making a change in your business because you believe part of your identity is wrapped up in the area that requires change?
- Do you repeatedly postpone dealing with an issue because you believe it will go away on its own?
- Have you been avoiding conflict because you believe it is impossible to work things through to a successful conclusion?
In all these situations – in every situation – people are watching what you do and are making assessments about what you believe. Their subsequent responses will be based on those assessments and will carry a very definite impact for your business.
While there are as many possible questions as there are people and businesses, they all boil down to just two queries: “What do my actions reveal about what I believe?” and “Am I satisfied with that … or do I need to make a change?”