As a leader, people are always anxious to figure out who you really are.
It’s understandable. A leader’s primary commodity is trust. People follow leaders they trust. Violate that trust, and people stop following you.
Many leaders talk a good game. And that’s understandable.
Yet habits and actions reveal more about any leader than words. And that’s what people study. As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” And that’s exceptionally true in leadership.
So what actions are people looking at? What are they really studying to see whether you are a good leader to follow?
In my experience, there are at least 5 things that reveal who you really are as a leader. It’s also easy to overlook these 5 things, or to convince yourself that what you say will compensate for what you do if what you do falls short.
Yet nothing a leader says eventually outweighs what a leader does. Your actions—not your words—create your leadership and your legacy.
So what should you be watching as a leader?
1. Whether you deliver on your promises
You never need to open your mouth for your team to determine whether they can trust you.
Trust, after all, is confidence.
The best way to establish confidence as a leader is to do what you said you’re going to do when you said you’re going to do it.
The challenge, of course, is that’s much harder to do than it seems.
Be careful about what you promise.
Be even more careful about how you deliver. It is far better to under-promise and over-deliver than it is to offer assurances that mean nothing.
And if you mess up, own up. People respect that.
And then do everything in your power not to repeat the same mistake again.
2. Whether you truly value your family or their family
I was talking to a leader the other week who was trying to figure out how much time to take off when there was so much to do at his rapidly growing church.
As we discussed this, it occurred to me that how he valued his family would signal whether he wanted his staff to value their families.
Most team members want a senior leader to go home at night to see his family.
The late night, early morning and all weekend emails actually discourage your staff. So do the seven day work weeks.
Even if you tell your staff “you take time off, I need to work,” they rarely feel secure in taking that time off.
Unfortunately, it took me years to learn that my working longer hours communicates to the team that it’s never safe for them to take time off.
How you value your family signals to your team whether you value their families.
3. What your real priorities are
You don’t need to tell people what your true priorities are; they can see them.
Often there’s a disconnect in many leaders’ minds between what they think their priorities are and what they actually are.
What reveals your real priorities?
What you spend your time on.
What you spend your money on.
What you measure.
What you reward.
You can say someone or something is important, but if you never fund it, never spend time on it, never assess results or reward progress, people will rightly conclude it’s not a priority.
If you say reaching young families is a priority but you budget $500 a year for it and refuse to put your best staff or volunteers on the project, it’s not a priority.
As a leader, your calendar and your organizational budget reveal what you value most.
4. Whether people matter to you
Leaders juggle so many issues that it’s hard to not be constantly distracted or pre-occupied when talking to someone.
It’s easy to become a leader who brushes people off, looks impatient and simply sees people as a means to an end.
People aren’t a means to an end; they’re actually the end. Ultimately, we’re all in the people business.
When you meet someone, ask yourself:
Did you stop?
Did you listen?
Did you look them in the eye?
Did you follow up?
How you treat people is a sign that they matter. Or a sign they don’t.
5. What you’re really like when the pressure’s on
Most of us like to grade ourselves on our good days or on our average days.
And that sets the tone of a lot of your leadership.
But what do people really watch for?
How you handle things on bad days.
How you responded during your last crisis will tell you exactly where your character is at.
Most of us will look back to the last crisis and wince. But that’s okay: it establishes the baseline from which progress needs to be made.
Crisis reveals character, and, as much as you wish it wasn’t true, your team is watching you intensely on your bad days.
If you want more on character, heart, health and leadership, I wrote a full chapter about it in my best selling church leadership book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.
In the meantime, what do you look for in other leaders?
And what do you look for in yourself?
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