Why Leaders Need To Stand By Their Words?

Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

We recently concluded a series of Leadership workshops across the country for a leading MNC organization. While we were discussing the “characteristics of admired leaders” – a core concept that came up for discussion was that of “credibility”. Through examples and personal experience, most people were pretty clear about this – that for them to admire a leader, he needs to be “credible”.

“But what does the word “credibility” mean in terms of day to day behaviors?”, I asked. The voices around the room had different expressions for it:

  • “Walk the talk”
  • “Keep up your promises and commitments”
  • “Put your money where your mouth is”

DWYSYWD Do What You Say You Will DoWhat everyone intuitively recognizes and were saying, was that – we as leaders & individuals, should do what we say we would do.

Now, how hard can that be?

I suggest you do a quick DWYSYWD audit on yourself before we move forward:

  • Do you exhort your team to be disciplined and in office by 9am every day? How disciplined are you in following that yourself?
  • You meet someone in the corridor who comes to you with a new idea. You tell him it’s a great idea – and you shall revert back to him soon. How often do you actually revert back?
  • How often do you tell a customer – that you will get back to him/her by EOD with a proposal? And how many times do you actually do that?
  • It’s the month end. You tell your channel partner to stock up on inventory with the promise of an additional backend sweetener. How promptly do you action that, once the month is over?
  • Your wife is on the phone at the fag end of the day. You tell her you will be back home by 7pm. How consistently do you keep your word?
  • You are back at home. You tell your kids that watching too much of television is bad. How much of your own time goes in watching TV?
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Invent the right questions to ask yourself. The key thing to watch out for and for you to rate is the question: “How consistently does your video match your audio?”

But why is this so important? Stephen Covey, had introduced a very powerful concept that he termed, “the emotional bank balance”. In any of our relationships, every time that we do a positive act we add to that virtual bank balance. Similarly, every time we have a negative experience (a fight, a misunderstanding, a breach of trust) – we withdraw from that bank balance. They key to successful relationships, he said, was to keep our emotional bank balances positive.

Much like the “emotional bank balance”, as individuals and leaders, each of us also holds a “credibility bank balance” with the various stake holders that we work with. Every time that we do what we say we would do, it is an addition into that account. However, every time that we go back on our words, we make a withdrawal from our “credibility account”. Not only that, every time that we go back on our words with another person, we encourage the other person to build a “buffer” with us. We are unknowingly increasing the “transaction cost” of that relationship.

A very visible manifestation of this syndrome is sometimes in sales teams. A target to be achieved by the country is buffered at every level down the hierarchy, until it reaches the final person on the field – by which time there is a significantly buffered target. What this could potentially lead to is a large chunk of the field force missing their sales numbers – leading to a negative spiral of demotivation, attrition and apathy.

Credibility – much like trust, is a hard earned quality. Think about it – why is it that politicians across the world, and more so in India often ridiculed? Why are they the butt of so many jokes? Perhaps because they promise a lot of things, but actually do little? Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner, in their seminal work called, “The Leadership Challenge” put this very nicely: “If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message”!

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What then, is the message for leaders from all of this? Mahatma Gandhi, put it in the most succinct way, when he said, “My life is my message”. He just did not speak about simplicity – he lived simplicity. He did not just voice independence, but through his every action – including weaving the charka every day, he lived the value of independence.

How closely are your actions in sync with your words? Do you always DWYSWYD? Building your own credibility is the bedrock of Leadership. Ask yourself today: Where do you stand on this parameter?

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