While I still have a lot to learn in life, I have been a parent for 13 years, and when new or soon-to-be parents ask me for pointers, my most common response is, “It’s not what you say, but what you do.” If you want your kids to eat veggies, you’d better be pounding greens. If you want them to respect their mom, or women in general, they should see you opening doors and speaking respectfully. If you don’t want them yelling at each other, don’t yell at them. It’s so much easier to say than do, but that is the point I’m trying to make: actions speak louder than words.
It’s exactly the same with leadership. That isn’t to say that you should treat your employees like children, but if you want to promote certain attributes, habits and actions in the office, then you’d better be modeling those behaviors yourself. It doesn’t matter what it is— if it’s something you care about or want your employees to follow through, but you don’t set a good example yourself, you can expect to be disappointed.
One of the reasons 97th Floor became a ROWE company was because while I had been requesting all of my employees to be in the office at a certain time, take their lunches at a specific hour, and keep their breaks under a pre-set duration, I hadn’t been asking the same of myself. I came in when it worked best for my family’s schedule. I skipped lunches, or I took longer lunch breaks when I met with people, or I just went home and had lunch with my wife. I took vacations when I wanted, for as long as I wanted. In short, my actions and my words were out of sync.
And yes, you could claim that, as the boss, I should be able to set my own schedule while micromanaging my employees’ hours, but it just didn’t work. I don’t like to play the “Exec Card,” and I didn’t feel good about having a conversation with someone for being 5 or 10 minutes late when I loved the fact that I got to have breakfast with my family and drop my kids off at school. Seeing your family off and helping your wife get the kids out the door shouldn’t be a privilege reserved for those who have “climbed the ladder.” It should be the right of anyone who understand priority, and knows how to correctly manage their time.
So, I got rid of all those rules. If I wasn’t willing to follow them, then no one should have to. While I understand that doesn’t translate to all businesses, it works for us, and the principles are sound.
I read an article this week on Electrik that talked about how much Elon Musk cares about his factory employees’ safety. He sent a company-wide email that reads as follows:
“No words can express how much I care about your safety and wellbeing. It breaks my heart when someone is injured building cars and trying their best to make Tesla successful.
Going forward, I’ve asked that every injury be reported directly to me, without exception. I’m meeting with the safety team every week and would like to meet every injured person as soon as they are well, so that I can understand from them exactly what we need to do to make it better. I will then go down to the production line and perform the same task that they perform.
This is what all managers at Tesla should do as a matter of course. At Tesla, we lead from the front line, not from some safe and comfortable ivory tower. Managers must always put their team’s safety above their own.”
He went on to say, “Everyone will have equal access to parking, eating the same tables, and there will be no management offices. I am convinced that managers should work at the forefront, in the same work environment as the entire team. Even though I run the company myself, I still do not have my own office and often moved my workplace to the most challenging area in the factory and slept on the factory floor when there was a real crisis. Managers should always take care of their team before they take care of themselves – the supervisor is there to serve his team – not the other way round.”
That is leadership. That is putting your money where your mouth is, and it will truly change the safety of Tesla employees because, while I think that email was sent to help the factory workers feel safer at their jobs, I believe it was mainly aimed at the managers. Musk specifically calls them out several times in the email, emphasizing that things should be “the other way around.”
I’m reminded of one of the first times we ever had the opportunity to sponsor a booth at one of the big industry conferences where I often speak. I don’t know how many times I came over to check on the booth, and to be honest, I wasn’t too impressed with its progress.
My main salespeople were a little timid, and I could tell they weren’t used to hustling this way. After all, 99% of 97th Floor’s leads are inbound, and this was the first time they had been asked to push a product in this manner. But the solution came from management. I had several managers and one director there that week, both to attend and help at the conference, and even though working the booth wasn’t their job, they buckled down and started talking with and engaging visitors.
The end result was transformative. It got a great energy going, and everyone else soon followed their example. In just a short time, the booth became significantly more active, and the leads started piling up.
If you are seeking a change, general growth, or specific improvements in your organization, the only way to make it happen is to lead by example. Even if you have to “fake it till you make it,” strap yourself in and get to work. It will move things along much more quickly than just talking about it all day.
I love this quote by Amory Lovins: “I'm a practitioner of elegant frugality. I don't feel comfortable telling other people what to do, so I just try and lead by example.” I have never been one to tell people what to do. I find it extremely uncomfortable to verbally tell someone how they need to improve, but I have no problems rolling up my sleeves, getting dirty, and demonstrating how I would have them act—or sometimes more importantly, reacting how I would have them react. There is an immeasurable energy that comes from toiling alongside your workforce, and the results are undeniable.
After all, actions speak louder than words, and when you set your actions as the example for your workforce to follow, the sound of success has the potential to be deafening.