Words matter. But your behaviour matters more.

Don’t tell them – show them. Words matter. But your behaviour matters more. 

You might be an executive team wanting to change the culture of your organisation. You may be a leader looking to improve your leadership in some way. Or perhaps you have received some unexpected and hard-to-hear feedback in your latest 360 – and you’re keen to show everyone you can change for the better.

By all means, say the thing. Tell them you’re keen to make positive change. Share with them your intention.

But don’t do that unless you are also working out how – the concrete behaviours that you are committed to taking.

It’s one thing to tell people that “things are going to be different around here”. But I have heard employees say to me that they’ve heard that spiel before. They have been on the receiving end of broken promises and grand speeches with little action afterwards. It erodes trust. As I mention in this post, cognitive trust (doing what you say you will do) is paramount when you’re trying to build trust.

So, once you’ve figured out what behaviours you need to change – and this is the hard, but fundamental part – do them. Practice better, observable, and specific behaviours that will show others that you are changing for the better. Consistently, regularly, over time – all the while getting feedback.

That may sound difficult (and I won’t pretend that it’s not!), so here are three ideas for how you can more effectively show them, not just tell them:

  1. Enrol an accountability partner or challenging cheerleader. Peer accountability (as a team or individually) can help you stick to your commitments and provide coaching to make those habits stick. It can be a peer, a coach or mentor, or even your boss. Invite them to hold you to account and give you feedback.
  1. Don’t try and make huge change all at once. Choose 1-2 specific behaviours to focus on to start with. Nail them first. Make them a habit. Once you have integrated them into your leadership practice, only then move onto the next behaviour. Little changes, practiced consistently, with regular review of how you’re going, are the way to go. 
  1. Ask for help. Making positive change is hard. Don’t feel like you must do it alone. Ask your team(s) for feedback – when you’re getting it right and when you’re not. Let them know that you can’t do it on your own and that you will need their help. Showing a little vulnerability builds trust, not erodes it, when it comes to team performance and leadership.

Author Rashida Costa said, “Talk is cheap. Actions speak”. So when it comes to telling people that positive change is on its way, let your actions speak louder than your words.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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