All great leaders know that actions speak louder than words, but what are your actions saying? As a leader it is easy to focus on what needs to be done and what is in front of you, and not remember that your actions are telling others a lot more about you than even what you are saying. This isn’t about body language, it’s about how you treat others and whether you come across as someone who cares about them, or someone who comes across as caring about yourself first. Let’s take a look at some examples and the potential negative impact they have.
These examples are about repeated offenses, not the occasional situation. Everyone understands that plans change, flights are delayed, traffic jams occur, etc. I’m referring to behavior that becomes the norm rather than the exception.
- Rescheduling meetings regularly. I have a client who tells me that meetings in his firm are just a place holder on the calendar and aren’t really a firm appointment, and rescheduling is more common than meetings actually happening on the date and time scheduled. To him it was common place and he told me it left him felling that everything else was more important than him and his time. How could he not feel this way?
- Showing up late for meetings, or not showing up at all. This is similar to the example above and perhaps more problematic. When you show up late for a meeting or don’t show up at all it says to the people in the room that your time and what you are doing is more important than them. And, in fact, you aren’t courteous enough to even let them know your intentions.
- Being unprepared for meetings. You have a meeting with your team or a team member, or a colleague and it’s been on the calendar for several days, maybe longer. An agenda was sent in advance. You show up not having read the email not being prepared in any way and perhaps assume it doesn’t matter. It does matter and great leaders understand it does.
- Being unprepared, delaying or missing performance reviews. Even for those organizations that have a planned performance review process it doesn’t guarantee that they happen, happen on time or that the manager is prepared. It doesn’t demonstrate good leadership skills if any of these occur, and once again says to the employee ‘you aren’t that important’.
- Not letting others know your schedule. One of my clients shared with me that he emailed his manager, and received a reply from him that he was on vacation and not to email him anymore. What’s wrong with this picture? My client wasn’t aware his manager was on vacation, there was no out of office set on the email and why was the leader responding if he didn’t want people to email him? I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the impact of this.
- Sending emails or making a verbal request for information you already have. We all do this sometime, shoot, I did it this week with my marketing person (who I’m sure wants to strangle me at times). Ask yourself, though, how often do you make a request for information you already have? What does it say about your leadership competencies?
- Long response time or not responding at all to emails or phone calls. What expectation do you set for your response time to emails or phone calls? Do you tell people 24 hours and it takes three days? If this is the pattern it says to others they don’t know what to expect of you, which isn’t a wonderful leadership brand to have.
- Not addressing issues with individual team members. Every leader has one or two people that are problem children on their team. But when we let those problem children run wild, with no apparent reprimands evident to others, or change in their behavior the rest of the team perceives them as sacred cows, and the rules are different for them than everyone else. Somehow you need to communicate to others that you are aware of the situation and ‘handling’ it, even if not yet resolved. Otherwise gossiping becomes the norm and individual and team performance is reduced.
- Unprepared for interviews, no process in place for interviews, etc. When I was recruiting I would remind employers that everything they do or don’t do in the interview matters. They have no decision to make until a candidate is interested. Trust me when I say all the little things that happen add up to a picture a candidate creates in their mind about what it will be like to work for your organization. Recently I had a client go on an interview with a new company. The manager she was to work for wasn’t there, a couple people were in the interview that would have nothing to do with her role, it was pouring rain and no one asked to hang up her dripping wet rain coat…the list goes on. The position and compensation no longer mattered as she was totally turned off.
- Not following through with what you said. This could be anything from speaking to someone to get information, running interference, scheduling a meeting, discussing a possible promotion, securing a new computer…you name it. Whatever you say you are going to do you must do in the time frame you indicated you would, or minimally tell the person what’s changed. Nothing interferes with trust more than others not being able to count on your word.
Leadership isn’t a title or a box on an org chart. It’s a responsibility to others that includes demonstrating to them that you care about them as people, not simply as an employee. It means exhibiting behavior that says “your needs, your development and your time” are important to me and as important as mine. You must model for others the behavior and actions you want from them. Great leaders build high trust relationships with everyone around them, which starts with others knowing what to expect of you and they can count on you.
Actions speak louder than words. What are your actions saying and are they saying what you want them to say?
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