Chapter 10: Sending Signals: How You Inspire – Or Demotivate – Without Saying A Word
The gap between your actions and your words is potentially one of the most toxic to your leadership effectiveness. When leaders make sure that there is no gap between their deeds and their words, their inspiration quotient rises dramatically. This chapter gives you a guide to sending more positive signals.
This is one of the shortest chapters in the book, but possibly the most important, because it will almost certainly be the one subject about which you are least aware.
As a leader, everything you do is an example to others, and you are being watched closely all the time. Your body language and your behaviours are being assessed by your followers every moment of every day. Your followers will come to their own conclusions about the right way to behave… from the way you behave. They will see patterns in your behaviour and they will take their cues from those patterns, not the words you utter.
The gap between your actions and your words is potentially one of the most toxic to your leadership effectiveness. It is one of the main reasons that people mark down their leaders. When leaders make sure that there is no gap between their deeds and their words, their inspiration quotient rises dramatically.
It is as simple as this: if you don’t understand the behaviours of your team, you almost certainly should be taking a look at your own. If everything you do is an example, and you are being watched closely all the time, then your actions are also being assessed by people who will be coming to their own conclusions about the right way to behave, the acceptable ways of getting things done around here or what really matters to you, and they will shape their behaviours accordingly.
I have seen this time and again in companies – more times than I can remember. I have stopped being surprised at how surprised leadership teams are when they get that feedback.
‘It is your own behaviours that are negatively affecting the organization, and not that your staff are simply trying to be obstructive.’
‘What?!! What do mean my behaviours – I could not be more clear about what I tell them.’
‘Yes, but what you tell them is conveyed not only through your words, but also through your actions. And what they see you doing is confusing/upsetting/demotivating them.’
Over the past year, I have worked with four different leadership teams in four very different companies. They are businesses you would recognize immediately, and their brands have definitely touched your life in very different ways. The work I was doing was to help them to articulate a compelling purpose and a clear set of values, and involved interviewing each of the members of the executive management teams, as well as many of the next level of senior managers. (Most executive committees in companies have between 8 and 10 members, including the CEO, and each executive committee member has between 10 and 15 direct reports, which gives a substantial number of interviews.)
In every case, these leadership teams were guilty of behaving in ways that created dissonance in their organizations. Their followers were very clear – their leadership behaviours sent powerful signals into the organization that people recognized, spoke about and acted on. As a result, what was happening in the organization was the exact opposite of what the leadership team was trying to achieve.
We have all been there. The conflict – when it exists – between what we are told and what we see with our own eyes has a dramatic effect on our attitudes. At best we will lose faith in our leaders and try to achieve our goals in spite of what they do, not because of what they do. At worst, we can become confused and demotivated, and our performance drops off dramatically.