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Leadership - Actions Speak Louder than Words

Aug 17, 2007
Ineffective leaders don't understand that actions speak louder than words. The expect people to listen to what they say not what they do. If you want to be an effective leader you need to lead by your example--not just what you say.

I knew an ineffective leader who tried to lead by decree instead of by example. He would do things like mandate that the entire organization had to wear a particular dress code on Fridays which had previously been casual day. Then he would show up in sweat pants--completely disregarding his own mandate.

Another leader of a large non-profit organization was trying to cut costs so he laid off a large percentage of the workers. Then he spent $50,000 remodeling his office and corporate apartment. The amount the had saved by laying off the employees was huge compared to the cost of the remodel, but it didn't matter. Employees saw that he was saying they needed to save money, but he wasn't willing to curb his own expenses.

Other leaders get on to their subordinates for not being at work on time, but the leader them self doesn't show up until 10am or later. They feel that they are so important that the rule shouldn't apply to them. It doesn't work like that. People are going to follow the leaders example more than following what is said. Even if they outwardly follow the instruction instead of the example, they will make up for it in other ways that hurt productivity.

There was another organization that couldn't figure out why all the middle managers would just come and go as they pleased. It was difficult to find anyone who could make a decision and the managers would often come in late, take a two hour lunch, and then leave early. It turned out that the managers were watching the CEO, who did the same thing. They were all trying to emulate his actions and that included keeping very irregular hours and sometimes not coming in at all. Some of the managers tried to fix the problem by installing a time clock system, but it had very little impact because it didn't look at the root of the problem.

People will usually listen to what you say, but they really pay attention to what you do. You can't say one thing and do another if you want to be effective as a leader. Just because you think you are more important than your subordinates doesn't mean that they are going to assume you don't have to follow any of your own rules.

What you say is important. However if your actions are different than your words people will assume the actions are what is true.
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Leadership501 is a website with resources for leaders and people in management positions. Please visit www.leadership501.com to find out more about born leaders and other leadership topics.
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