When you are leading a group of individuals — be it a team or a workforce — a lot of preparation goes into talks. What are you going to say during the meeting? What are the take home messages during your quarterly report? Coaches, bosses, and executives all spend a good deal of time ensuring that the message they want to be delivered gets across.
They outline the team’s philosophies; detail the core values; list the rules and expectations. Some might say them, others point to a slide during a presentation or hand out a notebook filled with charts and lists. Leaders take great care for what they communicate. They spend much less time worrying about what they do.
The problem with rules, values, and principles isn’t that they aren’t a good idea. In many cases they can align a team so that it’s working toward the same direction with the same expectations. But all of what was said can fall apart in an instant if it’s not backed up by what you do.
When there’s a mismatch between actions and words, then a crystal clear signal is being sent: What I’m saying isn’t really important. It doesn’t matter all that much, because I, the person in charge, am not following it.
When words and actions don’t line up, we tend to trust what our eyes can see. No different than a child who quickly learns to ignore his mom or dad’s pleas to eat healthy or to get off their phone at dinner when their parents model the opposite behavior. Co-workers, subordinates, and even kids on a team are much smarter than we give them credit for. They quickly figure out when something is truly valued, and when it is just window dressing.
In a social media society, it’s much easier to default to the superficial. To make it appear like we are doing the right things and professing the right values without actually taking the time to do the hard work; practicing what we preach.
The longer that I’ve been in a position to lead young men and women as a coach, the more I’ve realized that I shouldn’t hold those I’m leading to a standard I can’t keep myself. If I expect them to be on time, I need to. If I expect them to work hard, I need to. If I expect them to care or value certain things, then I better show that I, too, care and value those things.