Words, behaviors and actions
Leadership is not simply a set of skills, otherwise the thousands of available books on the topic would be doing a better job at creating better, stronger, more inspiring leaders in the world today. In my view, leadership hinges on three key performances:
- an individual’s willingness to use words (language) with integrity,
- an individual’s ability to behave in accordance with a designed future context (and, generally a context that benefits a large group of people will have greater impact), and
- an individual’s ability to consistently act in the direction of this envisioned future context
And, given that leadership is about performance, more than skills, no book in the world will get an individual to be a leader, as long as the concepts are not moved from page to real-life experimentation. To perform as a leader start with these simple and yet powerful steps:
First, learn to use words with the highest level of integrity. Integrity in this case is more than just doing what you say you will do. Integrity in the use of words has a lot to do with what types of commitments we are making and whether we remain accountable for these commitments no matter what. Integrity in language is also about making distinctions between stories and facts, knowing that when we state a story about facts, rather than simply stating the facts, we are adding feeling tones about events that are entirely personal, and not objective. Stories are incredible tools in leadership, but they serve a specific purpose: that to inspire others to action through our sharing of our own failures and successes. But, stories in any other context remove the strength that leaders must continue to emulate. It may place an otherwise strong leader in a position of victimhood, quickly turning resolvable situations into personal struggles of power.
I believe too, that words that hold integrity helps to keep us in control and calm in whatever situation may come our way. And calmness translates in confidence. Because we have less to hide, defend, or protect, a life of integrity saves us from having to resolve issues that are otherwise simple. When I ensure to only commit to things I am truly willing to commit to, and then remain true to these commitments, and when I use my words to state facts and, that way, remove my personal and non-objective lens from discussions meant to resolve problems and create solutions, I am living a life of integrity. My words then become a trusting pillar in any setting. And, trust is a key builder of relationships. To use words with the highest level of integrity is a mountain without a top – it is a life long process. But striving towards it is a key leadership performance indicator.
Second, behave in accordance with a designed context rather than in accordance with the default context. There exists two futures available to all of us: one future is the future that will take place, no matter what – the default future is the future that will happen if we do nothing to change who we are today. That default future is the future that most of us create. It is often unintentional and organic and it resembles our past more than a highly different future. We create default contexts when we continuously refuse to become something other than what we already are. This happens because of our resistance to true growth, and resistance to deep transformation. The other future, is the designed future context. This future is one we purposefully decide to create, by envisioning it and then behaving in accordance with it. We acknowledge that we are not today what we must be to receive this vision, and then we diligently replace old behaviors with new ones that we see must come to exist if we want this future to become true. Notice here that the emphasis is not in shifting the conditions, but first, to shifting who we are. We come from our vision; we do not get to it.
More than anything, designing and then behaving in accordance with a future context is a key differentiator in individuals who are able to truly perform as leaders. When an individual can see that circumstances are not the limiting factor in dictating behavior, and that instead anyone can reshape circumstance through a change in behavior, a designed context becomes a viable future. Behavior, before action, is key in leadership and in shifting current conditions into a better future. When this future context includes the betterment of larger groups of people (besides self), we move from personal to global leadership.
Lastly, our actions speak as loud, if not louder, than our words. When we constantly act towards a designed future we establish that we are wiling to risk everything for the creation of this future. We put our butts on the line and we demonstrate that we expect this future to become true. And, it becomes true leadership when we do that consistently, rain or shine. While economic or political situations may seem limiting to others, leaders continuously act in spite of these conditions. Leaders do not resist the obstacles that are presented to them as they carry on. Instead, they find ways to move past them, by acknowledging that the destination is more important than being attached to a path to get there. In this sense, if the path ahead requires that others take charge and be in greater control, or that others are the heroes of the story, leaders embrace it. Leadership is lost when appearance, control, or status become ruling guide posts. True leaders dedicate their lives to creating this future context, one step at a time, at all times.
Words, behaviors and then actions are the true measure of leadership. And, no one book can synthetic what these need to be. Life, and all of its webs and flows is the learning ground of leadership. How we use our words, how we behave and what actions we consistently take is what truly counts.