I guess I could have called this keeping your word.
This is all about tying intentions to actions. Words to actually ‘doing.’
And this is an important discussion because it affects outcomes …. NOT just perceptions.
And it gets tricky.
Of course you can never give your word unless you are sure you can keep it. hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm …. didn’t I just write about perfection? Geez.
Or you can have an attitude that says give your word, but that “life happens” and sometimes you can’t keep it, and this is fine.
Here is my opinion.
Timing and situation matters.
And your track record matters.
Perfection, baby, perfection.
If you give your word you are beholden to keep it. You have put an intention out there and must hold up your end of the bargain. Tough shit if life gets in the way.
No excuses. You either follow through on promises or you:
1. Don’t earn trust from others
2. Give permission to others to not follow through (or give permission for excuses)
First time through the chute (and by first time I am suggesting “enough time to establish a behavior pattern and belief system”) you are setting expectations.
Anything “less than” erodes both faith and integrity.
Done once … you have made it exponentially tougher to prove otherwise.
Done more (or enough) and no credibility is earned and, at its worst, you appear dishonest.
This is a simple equation. Words = Intent. Intent = Actions. Therefore … Words = Actions.
I guess I am writing about this because I perceive (I don’t have any huge research study to back me up on this) that we in the business world are struggling with this concept. And I cannot figure out why.
I do understand that an issue is often “here is what I think I said (the leader) and here is what I heard (the people).” And, yes, that is a huge issue.
But in general I find people are becoming quite flippant with promises or “words associated with doing” and just not following through.
And it seems that it really shouldn’t take a lot of thought.
And to me (who writes a lot about leadership and guiding and aligning organizations) this whole idea is a massive building block for creating unity behind leadership, really strong partnerships and great affinity in relationships of all types.
Why do I have this perception?
Well. Maybe if we all note how often that the exception (someone who actually always does what they say they will) actually draws attention that is certainly an indication.
Yup. It’s true.
When someone says “I’ll get it done” and they do, people notice, especially if they deliver consistently. For some reason people seem to be trying to gain respect or perceptions of commitment in other ways when it seems (at least to me) that putting action behind your words is the simplest way to show commitment.
“Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.”
commonly attributed to Abraham Lincoln or Shearson Lehman
And I wonder why ‘doing what you say you would do’ is slipping away from us?
Simplistically the excuse is time. Sure it’s tougher right now to ‘match words and actions’ with fewer people doing more.
But (and this is a HUGE but).
This concept needs to be addressed (or assume higher priority) maybe because of these thoughts:
1. Because organizations today cannot afford to be ‘not aligned’ behind leadership. Streamlined organizational actions are essential to maximize organizational energy.
2. Because executing well is essential when resources are low. There is no time or money for do-over’s or extended schedules.
3. Because partners are being thinned and stretched themselves and this value stands out as the type of person/partner you want to keep on your team.
All that said let me say something pretty simple (and probably sounds stupidly silly). This whole issue needs to be thought of from the top down. Because the organization starts with its leader.
“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.”
Yup. That sounds basic but I believe we are investing so much energy (at the top) on insuring that those at the bottom are ‘doing what they say they will do’ that the top is forgetting that they need to meet the same (if not higher) stands.
And this whole top down thing benefits all. It helps create a culture of ‘evidence’ (proof we say what we do) without slowing the organization down. And that means people are empowered to “do” within an outlined system. But doing starts at the top. There has to be a commitment to doing. Delivering on what words are used (which means that of course you should be careful what words you use but that is a different article).
This whole ‘words-to-action’ concept extends to outside partners (vendors) also.
Let me take a minute to look beyond the business application aspect of this and focus on organizational leadership and alignment.
This whole thing is really about trust.
What is a person if you cannot trust what they say? Words unfulfilled with some action become empty promises to people. “I will call the client” (and never does). “I will share a plan of action by next week (and doesn’t).” “I will be at that meeting (and misses it).”
Many leaders often have great intentions and also often fall into the trap of “I have too many things to do” philosophy (“and people will understand I am a busy person and just couldn’t get to it”).
We judge ourselves by our intentions, but others judge us by our actions.
Lee J. Colan
Actions are where intentions hit the road. Actions behind words show integrity.
And, ultimately, leadership is about integrity. The integrity to stand by your word. If you elect to not do what you said you would do people start questioning your integrity. While intentions express a desire to do, actions express commitment. By the way … people don’t follow intentions (over time).
In order to be a leader a man must have followers. And to have followers, a man must have their confidence. Hence, the supreme quality for a leader is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. If a man’s associates find him guilty of being phony, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need therefore is integrity and high purpose.
Dwight D Eisenhower
Without trust leaders cannot meet the largest challenge of any leader – connecting the real to the possible.
Without trust people will become cynical.
I do find it humorous (in a sad way).
We blame today’s youth for a “what have you done for me lately” attitude but the reality is that attitude has always existed in the establishment of leadership. And their whole attitude is often driven by our (at the top) inability to follow through. Or setting odd expectations in our own heads on what those actions will mean to people.
Never, rarely or inconsistent follow through on words leads to an organization lack of trust in leadership. Only consistent follow through of words with actions symbolizes the great led organizations. And often in those same organizations you find a strong self empowerment to “do” culturally. And even more often you will find that “what have you done for me lately” group not being so vocal and actually assuming some responsibilities of their own.
I babbled a lot but remember this if nothing else:
“Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold — but so does a hard-boiled egg.”
When you have verbalized intentions and aligned them with consistent actions people will follow. The other people in the company, people who report to you, people within the organization and your outside partners will all listen when you have something to say and come to “count on you.”
Yeah. Doing what you say you will do certainly comes with a burden. But. That burden is the price of leadership.
One last thing on the whole “words to action” idea.
Let’s call this “the time warp” issue.
Or the “time and space star trek continuum”.
The other side of this equation resides in the doee (the one asking to have something done … oh, ‘sooooooooooo-eeEEEE!’ is what they yell at Arkansas games).
Someone asks for something.
Sometimes in the mind of the doee there is a star trek episode in their head where time stands still and a shitload of things happen and then the clock starts again and all that shit has been done.
The time continuum hits and the doer didn’t even know it happened.
They asked the question (with the intent of trying to make sure they could actually meet what they promised).
Doer: “Do you need it right away or can we have some time?
Doee: “oh, no rush, I can have it later. Even tomorrow is fine.”
Doer: okay. (the promise to do has been made)
Uh oh (part 2).
The difference between I can have it now and I am okay with having it later translates to hours in their head (if not minutes).
Doee: you didn’t do what you promised.
Doer: you said today (which is now tomorrow) was okay.
Doee: yes. But it almost lunch and I don’t have it.
Doer: uhm. I can have it today.
Doee: but I have to leave for lunch soon.
Doer: (thought bubble) gosh. If you hadn’t called I was half out the door myself.
The space between those two words is perceived differently by the leader (the person who generates the words) and the receiver of words (the one who heard the intentions).
And someone is gonna come rockin’ into my comments section and say “well, you need to be clear and be specific!” (and say it like there is an exclamation point at the end).
I call bullshit on that.
No matter how specific or articulate you are a certain percentage of listeners will not hear exactly what you said. And that percentage grows exponentially as time slides down the slope.
What that means is the faster you tie an action to a word the more likely you are to earn trust.
Is that always doable? Shit no.
Just be aware.
And always remember the equation.
Words = intent. Intent = actions. Therefore words = actions. And all that = trust.