“What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Think about that quote for a moment – “What you do speaks SO LOUDLY I cannot hear what you say”. Simple yet prophetic. Truer words have never been spoken.
While researching quotes specifically for this leadership message, I thumbed through dozens, but this one struck a chord. An artist with a pen, Ralph Waldo Emerson was a master at communicating thought. A poet, lecturer, and essayist – his writings often centered around key ideas such as individuality, self-determination, self-reliance, and the capacity of the individual.
That’s why this quote caught my eye. I, too, believe in the capacity of the individual & our ability to achieve great things, when we put our mind to it. I believe both in the importance of self-determination and self-reliance. But, I also believe in something more – our ability to influence the action and behavior of others (both positively and negatively), and the significant responsibility it accompanies. For those of you who have seen my “6 Points of Leadership”, you are familiar with the first – “Lead by Example”. Perhaps an overused phrase, it nonetheless conveys an important lesson for each of us. The truth is our actions speak much more loudly than our words. And, that is a truth regardless of your position in life, role with a company, or involvement in any effort.
As parents, our children are biologically coded to look to us as an example for their own actions. Consider that they process behavior through sights and sounds much sooner than they process words. A parent that preaches honesty, respect, and character, but who doesn’t honor their word and is quick to critique others behind their back will most likely raise children who behave similarly. On the other hand, parents who are dependable, are not judgmental of others, and whose character is without question will see the very same develop in their children.
As friends the same applies. There are those of us who are entrusted with secrets, then proceed to spread rumors without thought of the implications. Or, what about that loud, obnoxious friend who always seems to make a scene wherever you go? What if he/she ‘promises’ not to do it again? Think that matters? Likely not.
As co-workers, we all know exactly how this works. We gravitate to and tend to surround ourselves with those peers we know are hardworking, diligent and trustworthy. And we avoid being associated with those who are viewed as lazy, careless with details, or who we can’t trust, even if they talk a big game.
In management, we often forget this fundamental premise. “Do what I say, not what I do” – isn’t that how it goes? We preach to our team members the importance of being at work on time and putting in a solid day’s work, yet show up late and leave early. We tell our sales team to pound the pavement and put more orders on the books – while we sit behind our desk checking email.
Now, before you start pointing to management, co-workers, or other parents as the culprit, recognize that every one of us is guilty of this in some fashion – almost on a daily basis.
Which brings me full circle. I believe in the potential of the individual, and the power of self-determination and self-reliance. But, I also believe in the responsibility it accompanies. Do your actions speak so loudly they silence your words? Is that the message you want others to hear? If it is, great.