Your Life is Your Message
My brother, someone from whom I have learned a great deal, has long held a piece of F. Scott Fitzgerald wisdom as a mantra for his life: “Action is character.” The message is simple, but it is not always easy to live. We are not ultimately defined by the values we say we espouse; we are defined by others in the way they see us express those values—and the ways they don’t—in our day-to-day lives.
In truth, our inaction can speak to who we our as loudly as any action. As leaders, as organizations, we are continuously making choices that either affirm or challenge what we say we value. In organization, too often, that process goes on unconsciously. The work of truly creating an aligned, values-driven culture requires intention and rigor.
Here’s an example, using the common organizational value of RESPECT. It’s almost universal to embrace this value at a high level. What’s more challenging is to demonstrate that value consistently in our daily actions and decisions.
First, it is important to first be clear on how we define it. The primary definition of respect involves seeing and valuing another person. The most effective leaders both give respect to others and know that must earn it themselves. Leaders who are “respected” only because of the position they hold are actually inspiring not respect, but compliance or deference to a role. John Maxwell, in his book “The Five Levels of Leadership” writes, “The lowest level of leadership—the entry level, if you will—is Position. It’s the only level that requires no ability or effort to achieve.” The hierarchical leader who sees merely occupying a certain position as making that worthy of respect will be less likely to demonstrate respect to those without status in the organization.
Fortunately, as we’ve learned more about the power of organizational culture, our understanding of what makes a strong leader has evolved. Even the most committed leaders can have lapses of “consciousness.” But through self-reflection, they return. Those who show respect to their teams are most often respected in return. The value of respect can be communicated through inclusion, deep listening, empathy, and perspective-taking, ensuring clarity, celebration, and more.
What are some of the ways in which your actions express your character?