Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Messages We Send

"Walk the Talk".  How many times have you heard or said those three words, when in reality what should have been stated was:  "Do as I say, not as I do."?

Every organization adapts its culture to the actions of its leader.  Depending on the leader, adaptation can take place quickly, or it may occur over the course of several years.  Make no mistake though.  At some point in time, every organization will fall in line and will walk in the shadow of its leader.

What about you?
  • Are you a leader who preaches the importance of safety, yet leads colleagues across a busy intersection, with a DON'T WALK sign flashing, so you won't be late for your next meeting?
  • Do you talk to people about the value of live communication on the phone or face to face, and then send an e-mail to the person sitting three offices down the hall?
  • Have you championed treating people with dignity and respect, but dismantled a presentation from your sales team in of a room full of people?
I once worked with a guy (I'll call him Chris) who was a senior executive of a large company.  Chris often spoke about the importance of work-life balance and the value that balance brings to the long-term health of the employees and the organization.  Chris was adamant about employees taking their vacation, and vigilant about people unwinding on weekends.   Chris wanted his team to return to work refreshed and recharged every week.  Chris told his people that in general, he didn't expect them, or even want them to be working when they were away.

Much to Chris' chagrin, his people never seemed to listen.  Every time one of Chris' staff would go on vacation, they would send and respond to e-mail several times a day. Some seemed to be constantly on line, responding almost immediately to any messages sent their way.

Once, after a particular staff member returned from a week of vacation, during which he had been e-mailing and phoning into the office daily, Chris sat down with his team and asked why they didn't put work aside for a week and enjoy their time away when on vacation?  After a few awkward moments of silence, someone spoke up and said:  “Well Chris, we hear what you say, but whenever you go away on vacation, you are always sending us e-mail and calling in to see how things are going.  I figured that although you say you don’t want me to work when I am on vacation you do, so you must expect that I will as well.”  Heads nodded around the table.

Chris didn’t know what to say.  He started to justify himself but he realized right then that if he expected his people to what he wanted them to do, Chris knew he needed to do the same himself and lead by action, not only words.

You must lead by example.  People will see what you do more clearly than they hear what you say and they will follow your actions more closely than they will your words.