Every successful author writer learns this key concept that C-suite executives would do well to apply to their everyday business interactions: show, don’t tell. Applied to business interaction and management, the concept doesn’t refer to using active verbs whenever possible; it refers to the old axiom that actions speak louder than words. Another truism: good leaders model the behavior they want their employees to emulate. It’s the old “monkey see, monkey do” principle. The capacity to lead requires traits like integrity and decisiveness. To inspire people to follow you, you must demonstrate that you’re worthy of their trust and earn their respect.

Lisa Martin’s article “Defining Leadership: Actions Speak Louder than Words,” offers four levels of leadership that graduate from being put into a leadership position and offered the opportunity to lead to gaining the respect and trust of people because you demonstrate that you have their best interests at heart to mentoring people because their success does not threaten you. Good leaders do not succumb to their insecurities.

The potency of action shows your commitment to the best interests of those who work for you and the clients for whom you work. That commitment shows up as ethical behavior, not as motivational posters that give lip service to virtue. “Your business ethics will be tested throughout your journey as an entrepreneur, and the way in which you react to situations and problems will determine your reputation as a company. It’s important to set your standards from the start,” writes David Ingram in his article “6 Tips on Building an Ethical Company: Ethics Speak Louder than Words.” He adds, “Good quality relationships built on respect and trust—not necessarily agreement, because people need to spark off each other—are the single most important determinant of organizational success.”

The behavior modeled at the top rungs of the corporate ladder set the tone for the entire company. While the company’s employee manual may specify certain types of responsibilities, actions, and values—and these do need to be clearly communicated to ensure a common level of understanding—if management won’t follow the rules, then labor cannot be expected to do so. This is nowhere more clearly demonstrated than at the retail counter.

Consider the following true scenario: A customer demanded to return and receive a refund for a fully functional coffee maker that he’d purchased six months earlier and used. The clerk denied the return; however, the department supervisor accepted it and refunded the cost. There were two primary consequences. First, the customer learned that company policy did not apply to the customer. Second, every clerk in the store learned that the company for which they worked was dishonest and did not support its employees. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the negative consequences resulting from those lessons learned.

The upshot is that actions have consequences. The action of leadership affects employees’ perceptions in their workplace. In their article “Actions Speak Louder than Words: CEO Conduct that Counts,” authors Melanie Sanders, Meredith Hellicar, and Kathryn Fagg conclude their research with the following statement: “The bottom line: Employees are canny observers of reality rather than rhetoric.” To extract the best from your employees and to earn your clients’ respect, we’ll end with another axiom: Practice what you preach.

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