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Leadership 101: What You Do Matters. What You Don’t Do Matters Too.

Sometimes leaders think that communication is what happens when they make a presentation. Or send an email. Or hold a meeting.

In fact, leaders communicate every moment of every day. In their words. By their actions. With their inaction. Because people are watching and adjusting – sometimes to the subtlest of cues.

The minute you step into a leadership position, no matter what level, others begin to look to you for direction and guidance. And as such, what you say is important. Words matter and you can use them to further the worthwhile purpose you are leading. You can also, if not careful, use them to derail and detract and to detour effort.

As a new leader, I was taken aback by how others reactions to my words and actions changed so quickly. As a team member, a snarky comment got barely noticed. As a leader, it became fodder for gossip, fear, and speculation.

As a team member, I could forget something and my forgetfulness was taken as a mere oversight. As a leader, not doing something signaled it was not important and others would shift their energy somewhere else.

As a team member, I could be friends with whoever I wanted. As a leader, friendships became equated with favoritism and people feeling they were either “in” or “out” of favor.

When you’re a leader, others are listening to what you say, but even more so are looking to see what you do. This quote sums it up quite nicely:

People hear what you say.

People see what you do.

Seeing is believing.

Nonverbal Cues

I would see this happen time and time again when the manufacturing plant I worked in would get a new general manager. If the new manager was a shirt and tie guy, within a period of two weeks, shirts and ties began to be the dress of choice with those that reported to him. Bring in a khaki and golf shirt guy, and the ties were retired and replaced by more casual attire without a word being said.

Non-verbal cues speak loudly. There was a day I was privy to unsettling news that we were closing a division, impacting over 1000 jobs. That afternoon, rather than making the rounds to all the lines before leaving, I gathered my things from my office with a heavy heart and just left. First shift passed information about my demeanor to second and then again to the people on third shift. When I arrived early the next morning, no less than three operators asked me what was wrong and had surmised that something big was happening. All that from a change in my routine and body language.

People take cues from what you say and do but also from what you don’t say or do. I once assigned an important project to a highly capable team member. Knowing it was in good hands, I focused my time and energy on other things. I was quite surprised to find, a few weeks before the project was to be completed, that it had been abandoned. My inattention had signaled unimportance, and this high performer had aligned their actions with cues. This was not a performance issue; it was my lack of leadership.

The 3 C’s of Stellar Leadership

Stellar leaders know that others are looking to them. As such, they lead with:

  • Clarity – they know the messages they intend to send and the direction they are taking others
  • Congruence – they align their words and their actions, seamlessly
  • Consciousness – they are aware of the impact their words and actions take – and avoid sending misleading or unintended signals

Leaders who have clarity, congruence, and consciousness create alignment, focus, and energy. Those that don’t create confusion, frustration and wasted effort. Which type of leader are you?

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