Fresh on the heels of my remarkably fun and productive collaboration with Mary Jo Asmus of Intentional Leadership on “The Words of a Leader,” I feel duty bound to remind you that while words are indeed powerful tools for creation or destruction, it’s your actions that will seal your fate as a leader. Or rather, how well your actions and your words match.
Only the Paranoid Survive to Lead Effectively:
With apologies to Andy Grove for truly misappropriating and slightly twisting the title of his great book (Only the Paranoid Survive), in this case, it’s true.
Everyone IS watching you and they are all passing judgment on your credibility as a leader. Constantly. Constantly that is, until they find you guilty of failing the test of credibility and they shift into compliance mode. You’re finished as a leader at this point.
More Practical Lessons in Leadership:
When Rich Petro and I were talking with leaders of all types and levels for Practical Lessons in Leadership, we truly wanted to understand what contributed to a person being perceived as a “credible” leader—someone that people trusted and put faith in to follow.
The answers from our interview subjects came fast and were surprisingly consistent. They had little to do with how articulate the leader was or how well he or she could paint a picture of a glorious new future.
Rather, the answers consistently focused on whether the words of the leader were backed by actions that supported those words. Any dissonance between the words and the actions was clearly identified by our interview subjects as credibility killers.
I loved the way one mid-level manager put it: “The do must match the tell.”
Simply and powerfully stated.
Opportunities to Watch Out for Your Do and Tell:
It might shock you to realize how many times per day you face little moments of truth where your “Do and Tell” are being judged. Here are some all too common examples of self destruction by the leader’s own dissonant behaviors:
- Issues of Accountability: it’s hard to be credible after preaching accountability but failing to deal with performance issues and poor performers. Your “Do” is showing and lacking here.
- The Jordan Rules: Star players contribute to championship teams, but if you’ve got two sets of rules…one for the star(s) and one for everyone else, your credibility is in trouble.
- The Closed Open Door: Enough with that “I’ve got an open door policy,” as you remain huddled behind a slab of oak that only opens to toss out a body after you shoot the messenger who stepped through the door on a rare occasion when it was open.
- The “Work harder so I can relax more” pitch: I love the characters that show up to harangue or implore the troops to push harder and then head out for long lunches or another in a nearly endless string of exotic vacations.
- The “Take Risks, Be Bold and Learn from Mistakes,” preacher: “Just not on my watch,” say their actions…as yet another formerly bold body gets tossed out of the rarely open door.
- The “That’s an important topic and we should talk about it at the right time,” manager: It’s never the right time.
The Bottom Line:
Watch out for the “Do and Tell” traps that snare so many leaders. Even the small situations…the exceptions and the odd circumstances will be viewed through the lens of credibility and judged accordingly. You don’t want to be caught with your “Do clashing with your Tell.”