What People Learn About You as a Leader Without You Saying A Word

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.

[tweet “Your actions—not your words—create your leadership and your legacy.without using words

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? Easy, your real priorities are revealed by what you:

Spend your time on.

Spend your money on.

Measure.

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?
Listen?
Look them in the eye?
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.

Craft a Better You

If you want practical help overcoming some of the biggest challenges leaders face, my new book Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That Nobody Expects and Everyone Experiences tackles the seven core issues that take people out: cynicism, compromise, disconnectedness, irrelevance, pride, burnout, and the emptiness of success and provides strategies on how to combat each.

I wrote the book because no 18 year old sets out to be cynical, jaded and disconnected by age 35. Yet it happens all the time.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s what top leaders are saying about Didn’t See It Coming:

“Seriously, this may be the most important book you read this year.” Jud Wilhite, Lead Pastor, Central Church

“Powerful, personal, and highly readable. ” Brian Houston, Global Senior Pastor, Hillsong

“Whatever challenge you’re facing, whatever obstacle you’re hoping to overcome, whatever future you dream or imagine, there is something powerful for you here.” Andy Stanley, Founder, North Point Ministries

“Uncommonly perceptive and generous…You have to read this book.” Ann Voskamp, NYT bestselling author

“Masterful.” Reggie Joiner, CEO Orange

“Deep biblical insight, straightforward truth, and practical wisdom to help you grow.” Craig Groeschel, Pastor and NYT bestselling author

“This book is sure to help you.” Daniel H. Pink, NYT bestselling author

Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey…It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.” Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author

“Nieuwhof’s book provides expert guidance…with an accuracy that pierces the heart.” Nancy Duarte, CEO Duarte Inc.

“A refreshingly transparent guide for all leaders in a wide variety of industries.” Bryan Miles, Co-Founder and CEO, BELAY

You can learn more and get your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here.

What Else?

In the meantime, what do you look for in other leaders?

And what do you look for in yourself?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

6 Comments

  1. William on September 26, 2018 at 10:09 am

    The five points are very eye opening to all ministers, I am refreshed and I will revisit my leadership skills to make sure I am effective to the church of Christ!

  2. Joe on September 24, 2018 at 4:38 am

    Thank you Carey, your God given wisdom helps keep Me grounded. There is so much I have yet to learn.

  3. Dawn Farris on September 29, 2016 at 11:37 am

    Such a good post. I retweeted which linked it to my fb page, and have had people contacting me today just to talk about what it means in their own lives. Thanks for the opportunity to talk openly with others about an what it means to lead well with integrity.

  4. Marc Ulrich on April 19, 2016 at 5:48 am

    I think people look at all these and health. All it of these show the evidence of emotional and social health and/ or maturity. I also think people look at physical health of a leader.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 19, 2016 at 5:55 am

      Mark I think that’s very true. I had an unchurched friend tell me he respected me because I worked out. If I didn’t, he would take what I had to say about Jesus less seriously. Interesting.

  5. HoosierConservative on April 18, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Interesting topic. Leaders set the tone in an environment through more ways than they realize. Everything they do puts a fingerprint on the organization somewhere.

    The most popular excuse for the gap you’ve outlined is the leader feeling like s/he’s in survival mode. How can they fund a youth program when they’re behind on the light bill? Priorities become academic at a time like that. If they’re not careful, that becomes routine operations, and they never get out of it.

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.