Words are cheap, actions speak louder
Many leaders, especially new leaders, put an extraordinary amount of time and effort into talking about what they will do. The English language dictionary is filled with thousands of words that can be used to talk about what you will do.
However, so many leaders forget an idiom most of us learn when we are young, actions speak louder than words. If they spent even half of their time executing on the things they talk about, they would be amazing leaders.
It is easy to fall into the trap as a leader of spending a lot of time talking about things you and/or your team will do. If in fact the “talking” is due to productive activities like planning, organizing or coaching then they are worthwhile pursuits.
However, there is a huge difference between effective planning sessions and analysis paralysis. There is an even bigger difference between organizing/coaching and micromanaging. How we choose to spend our time as leaders and what actions we take, can be a crucial factor in the level of success we enjoy. We must always remember that actions speak louder than words.
Leadership is an action, not a position. – Donald McGannon
Leaders must be about actions not words
Some leaders view leadership as an arrival point on an adventure and not the adventure itself. These leaders tend to be very passive upon getting the title and rely on their formal authority to get respect and results. They often lack the actions and proactive tendencies needed to succeed and instead live in a reactionary world that they think revolves around them.
These leaders often spend a lot of time talking about the actions that happen around them rather than the actions they themselves are taking. They aren’t actually impacting anything themselves but rather simply existing in the same space as these actions.
As the quote above demonstrates, leadership is a verb and leaders cannot simply exist without the actions to back up the words. The difference between successful leaders and unsuccessful ones is that the former ensures that their actions speak louder. Not just any actions either but the right kinds of actions that mean something and have a positive impact.
So, what kinds of actions should leaders be taking?
Actions, not words in pursuit of goals
Depending on the level of the leader, the amount and type of actions needed to achieve their goals will vary. Front line supervisors will require much more tactical (hands on) actions like directly managing results and people. Comparatively, a CEO has a much more strategic (hands off) role where the actions that are needed look very different.
Unfortunately, many misunderstand the distinction between these levels of leaders. The CEO could easily be perceived to be like the leader we described above, talking not doing. Additionally, a front-line supervisor could be wrongly perceived to be having lots of impact when in fact they are having very little. Each respective leader must act according to their purpose and role, having the impact their position is designed to have.
To avoid being the leader we mentioned above, each leader must act according to their position. The front-line supervisor can’t spend their whole day locked in their office telling their boss about all the actions they are going to take; they must actually take them! The front-line supervisor’s actions need to be all about executing on the daily tasks, coaching their people and building results.
The CEO can’t spend all their time telling the shareholders about all the actions they are will take that will drive share price; they must actually go do it! The CEO’s actions must be spent on guiding culture, company growth and worrying about the big picture to get the desired results.
To achieve your goals as a leader, each day must be spent actively working towards achieving them. Even small actions, done everyday, can lead to big things provided the time was used wisely. As a leader, actions speak louder than words.
Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare. - Japanese Proverb
Actions speak louder than words in a crisis
No matter how great things are going for any company, organization, family or team; eventually, they will face some sort of crisis. These crises are often reputation defining flashpoints for a leader. The ultimate, don’t talk about it, be about it moment for leaders.
When faced with a crisis, all eyes immediately lock on the leader to see how they should respond. As the leader, what is the appropriate response? Do we convene a series of meetings to discuss how best to handle to situation? Or do we take prompt and immediate action? The answer is, it depends but what doesn't change is that actions speak louder than words.
Is there imminent danger to the health of your company, your people, your family? Then take immediate action! Is there an impending labor shortage about to take place but you have two months to prepare? Then, taking time to talk through a sound strategy is a good option.
While that makes sense to most of us on paper and seems like a no brainer, no crisis is ever that cut and dry. The reality is that when the crisis strikes, it is often at the worst possible time. Emotions are running high; stress is through the roof and time seems to be very short. It is in these moments where the leader’s natural tendencies shine through. What your people know you will do will matter more than what you say.
Either they will be a leader of action, or their leadership is based on words alone. What you do in these moments will speak louder than what you say. Remember, actions speak louder than words!
Actions speak louder than words in a relationship too
Whether you view your interactions with other people this way or not, you have a relationship with everyone you meet. The range and extent of these relationships varies greatly. Maybe it is a coworker you chat with every morning or your spouse of 30 years. How you choose to interact with one versus the other varies on the extent of the relationship.
Regardless of how long or intimate a relationship with someone may be, what you do, has way more impact than what you say. The same holds true for leaders, your actions will always speak louder than your words. If you promise an employee something in a meeting and then fail to deliver, what you say begins to lose credibility. Stack up too many failed promises and your words become meaningless.
The same holds true for our personal relationships as well. Spending time speaking and getting to know those around you is very important. However, if during the next conversation you forgot most of what they said, then it quickly becomes clear to that person that you don't care. Even if you had every good intention and handled the conversation perfectly; you failed to act on remembering what they said! Actions speak louder than words, so take action and remember what they say!
How to be an actions focused leader
Being an action-oriented leader is a habit you can practice so that when faced with these defining moments, you can be ready. How do we practice that? Here are a few helpful tips that can be used to strengthen this habit:
When building a relationship with someone remember; your words are loud but your actions speak louder!
When a potential action item pops up in a meeting or gathering, assign a point person to handle it immediately.
If you are discussing getting together with someone for lunch to build on your relationship, take control and schedule it right there and then!
Spend time having purposeful conversations with those around you. When the time comes to make quick judgement calls in a crisis, knowing the capabilities of those around you is critical to survival.
Set timelines for yourself and your teams, especially in a meeting setting. Agree up front that within the set amount of time, you will make an actionable choice, then act on it.
Occasionally, try writing rather than words. Writing can help you organize your thoughts more than speaking sometimes.
Have your meetings built around specific actions that need to be taken so that the focus of the meeting is clear.
Partner with someone who can keep you accountable and on message in meetings. Develop a signal they can use that will mean, get to the point!
Be disciplined in protecting your time to allow for action. Don’t let all your time be spoken for with meetings and tasks that keep you from executing on your goals.
Do something small towards your goal EVERY DAY. If your actions won't get you to your grand goal today, then do something small towards it. Even all the little steps every day will get you closer.
Actions speak louder than words
At the end of the day, your leadership reputation will be built around both what you do and what people think you do. If you are a leader of action, taking care of problems and moving closer to achieving goals then you will be known for that.
If you spend all your time analyzing, collaborating, thinking and sitting in meetings, then that will define your leadership. None of those things are bad but don’t let that be the only thing you do! Stop being afraid to go out and make something happen. Get out of your comfort zone and find ways to act and make immediate impact on your dreams and you will be amazed at how far you will go!
Actions speak louder
If you want to accomplish something, then stop talking about doing it and start doing it! The world is full of wantrepreneurs and big dreamers that spend all their time talking about what they will do instead of doing it. Corporate America is filled with leaders that say one thing and do another. If you want to be successful as a leader and ensure your message is heard then remember; actions speak louder than words!