Authentic leadership: How to prevent words and deeds from misaligning

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Authentic leadership: How to prevent words and deeds from misaligning

“Actions speak louder than words” is a phrase often deployed in conversations around leadership. But at Achieve Breakthrough we believe leadership is as much about language and communication as it is action.

Declaring your commitment to a goal or a project is a powerful act in itself. It gives ideas potency and can help crystalise and internalise goals, shifting team mindsets along the way. Although every leader needs to be able to walk the walk, actions make the most impact when they’re aligned with words.


Authentic commitments speak volumes

When a commitment goes unfulfilled, it creates a chasm between words and deeds, and can sow distrust between a you as a leader and your team. Each time this happens, subsequent promises become harder and harder to sell.

But being true to your word doesn’t start after you’ve said it. We can often use declarations as a way of making ourselves committed to an action, by setting some kind of target or external expectation. But if the declaration is inauthentic to begin with, it becomes far harder to stick by.

Start by being clear in yourself on whether you can make that declaration before giving voice to it. Know if any of your own background commitments are going to get in the way of fulfilling what you’re about to promise.

Putting a commitment into language is a powerful act, so before you make that declaration, you need to be sure you’re committed to do the work before and after. Because if you’re not able to follow it through, that’s when you’ll find your actions do start speaking louder than words. 


Don’t be afraid of the straight conversation

We often use the word ‘racket’ to refer to declarations that leaders are prone to making, but unlikely to keep. Making a racket can bring a moment of good feeling for the person making the commitment and the person hearing it, but ultimately it’s just a false hope.

It isn’t always meant to be manipulative. We often make a racket when we don’t want to let someone down. If a member of your team sets out a specific goal or promotion they want to achieve during their performance review, it’s simply easier to say it’s possible because you don’t want them to be discouraged.

Even if it’s made to spare disappointment in the moment, it still might be a false commitment. If that team member finds out later that their goal isn’t achievable after all, the chasm between words and deeds appears. They may feel lied to or that they had committed to stay with the organisation even though the best interest for their career lay elsewhere.

Nobody likes to disappoint. But part of being a leader is overcoming the fear of having the straight conversation. If your commitment is not authentic, your actions and your words will inevitably become estranged.


It’s OK to revoke commitments

Unfortunately, commitments aren’t always a black and white choice between goals that are achievable and those that aren’t. All too often leaders can make an authentic declaration only for circumstances to change or other factors to complicate the picture.

Restructuring is a perfect example. When a business begins this kind of transformation, employees naturally start to worry about job security and the leadership might respond with promises that no one is in danger of being laid off.

That commitment might be truly authentic at the time. But as the nature of the restructure becomes clearer down the line, the reality might prove that some redundancies are in fact inevitable.

When this kind of situation occurs, it’s always better to revoke the commitment early rather than allow it to become a false one over time. Going back on a declaration is rarely a leader’s favourite course of action, but it can be a powerful one. 

By being upfront about a commitment you can no longer keep, you show to your team that you can face reality and aren’t trying to sweep the issue under the rug in the hope they don’t notice. A broken promise damages trust, but a revoked one can help to build it, even if disappointment is in the mix too. Far from showing weakness, it can be an example of bravery, honesty and humility.

Looking to create an impossible future? Get in touch to explore how we can help you ignite your ambitions.


Published 09/07/2024

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