Kids and employees have an amazing ability to pick up on when our behaviors don’t match up with our words.
For those of you who are parents, you will be all too familiar with the fact that we tend to say one thing, but do another – which is something our kids are great at pointing out. Kids have an amazing ability to pick up on inconsistency, especially when our behaviors don’t match up with our words.
It turns out that when you’re a leader, your employees have this same ability. And in this case, the stakes can be higher if you’re running a company with 20, 100, or even 1,000 employees – all of whom are on the look out for any inconsistency in your words and behaviors.
That’s why everything you do as a leader – everything! – matters. Every action you take or word you speak is being immediately scrutinized by your employees.
That even includes how you get out of the car in the morning. If you make your way across the parking lot with your head down and a sour look on your face, your employees will immediately begin to think that something bad is happening to the company.
I remember the CEO of one media company whose personal style was to walk around the offices with his head down lost in thought. The problem was he would be walking right by his employees – all of whom thought he was mad at them because he wouldn’t say hello! He had no understanding of the impact of his behavior on the organization or the messages it sent.
I actually had a similar experience where on my one of CEO roles, I had a routine of saying hello to the people working near me every morning. But for three days in a row, I somehow neglected to acknowledge this one engineer who worked around the corner from me. Sure enough, I soon hear through the grapevine that this employee thought I was upset with him and his project because I didn’t say hello.
Repeat after me: everything matters!
Things get even worse when you are inconsistent between what you say and what you do. The classic example of this is how the CEO of a Fortune 100 company made a visit to an underperforming plant in his private jet. After the CEO challenged the general manager to cut costs and to make sacrifices during the budget meeting so that the plant could make its numbers, he headed back to his offices in his luxurious plane.
Do you see how an employee might see that as a mixed message? Would that inspire you to follow that leader?
The point is that if you want people to follow what you say, you need to act in a similar fashion. If costs need to be cut, it should be your salary and private plane that should come first. If people need to work overtime to meet the organization’s production goals, you need to be there working long hours as well.
Again, it’s the kind of optics you send to the organization. The takeaway is that as a leader, your actions speak louder than words, but your words also need to be consistent with your actions.
When you can do that, you’ll earn the trust of your troops and they’ll follow you into battle.