Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Our Actions Betray our Intent

Our Actions Betray our Intent

I have been thinking about this topic for a number of years, and recently in my consulting practice, I have had a series of conversations with a number of clients/leaders across varied industries, organizations and roles where this theme continues to resonate.  The dynamic of an organization or a leader’s “words” communicating one set of “truth” (no “alt facts” reference intended) and that same organization’s/leader’s “actions” communicating a different “truth” is pervasive and damaging to organizations broadly.  While the “disconnect” between the “words” and “actions” is debilitating, I want to suggest that in today’s business and political climate, we must be reminded that our actions betray our intent, not our words.

Looking over past essays, you can see that I have found my way to this topic before and it continues to be an issue, and may be a growing one across our landscape today.  Back in 2014, I commented on a discussion with a work associate where this “words/actions disconnect” was front and center.  You can read more in the essay “Watch the Feet,” at http://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2014/05/over-past-few-months-i-have-found.html.  While the dynamic is common, I am coming to a point of view that the leaders who are actively engaged in this “disconnection” are fooling themselves to think that they are somehow being effective, impactful leaders with this behavior.  Maybe we have become too jaded or cynical with all the “spin,” and “talking points,” with people being trained to “stay on message” at all cost; but I suggest that broadly individuals are looking past the “spin” and watching the actual actions to understand the true intent of a leader or organization.

A living example of this is happening currently in the summer of 2017 with an impending headcount reduction at major corporation headquartered here in Atlanta.  The new CEO has described these job eliminations as a way to “ help us do fewer things better and help us support our operating units” as a “more lean and focused corporate center.”  While the “words” tell one story, the reality is that the company is struggling to grow, with the stock price at the same split adjusted price as 19 years ago, and  the company needs to cut costs dramatically in order to achieve its profit targets; thus is eliminating 1200 +/- jobs in its corporate headquarters staff  of 5500, a 22% reduction.  While the reality is harsh, it is more the “truth” of the moment rather than some “process improvement” initiative to make the corporate workplace more streamlined and efficient … the actions betray the intent!

Closing with a word of inspiration from my old boss Bruce Paynter, leaders and organizations can be amazing and powerful when their words and actions actually align!  In one of my last conversations with Bruce, he talked to me about the importance and impact of authenticity in leaders and how organizations watch leaders carefully to “see” the alignment of their words and actions.  You can find that essay at, http://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2009/06/authenticity-foundation-of-leadership.html.  This need to stay “on the rail” where one’s words and actions are aligned is vital to all of us as we seek to have a positive impact on our teams/organizations/clients/families/etc. in the short run, and leave a legacy that we will be proud of in the long run!  Let’s work to “stay on the rail” of alignment and allow our actions and words (hopefully highly aligned) “betray our intent” regularly and positively!

Postscript: regardless of your political orientation, we need to hold all elected officials and candidates to a higher standard in this area.  We as members of the electorate cannot become “numb” to the massive disconnect and misalignment between “words and actions” that is pervasive on all sides of the political spectrum today.  Not only is it damaging in any specific election, it weakens the strength of our democracy in the long run!