Leadership comes in all kinds of styles, in all kinds of settings. Despite the endless variations and examples of leaders in the world, there is a simple truth about the leadership choices that resonate and make a difference in driving results. It’s about consistency. Word, Deed, and Direction.
New managers and B-School students focus on resources, investments and ROI. Our first understanding about how business works focuses on the economic business cycle: the concrete “hard” decisions that we make to price the product or hire the team or configure manufacturing or fund marketing campaigns, etc. After all, these investments are what businesses explicitly measure. We pay significant attention to how those choices impact our bottom line. As leaders move up in the organization, budgeting and investment remain a critical lever to drive results, and companies track and study the ROI of projects, investments and business decisions at length. Keeping your eye on the ball means focusing on the allocation of resources and the results of those choices.
Leading, however, goes far beyond the strategic and economic decisions. Great leaders balance those “hard” choices with leadership actions which enable an organization to execute with passion and commitment and enthusiasm. Balanced, holistic leaders manage three simple levers to send a consistent message about what matters to their organizations:
- their messaging and communications(word)
- their time (deed) and
- the priorities they set for others (direction).
Stop for a minute and think about a great leader you’ve known…their words, deeds and direction are almost always in lock sync. What they focus on in presentations, what they talk about in off-the-cuff interactions, what they ask the organization to do and how they invest their most precious resource (their time) all focus on the same priorities and themes. Think of Alan Mulally at Ford and his time invested in strategy rooms with his senior teams; or Arthur T. Demoulas at Market Basket, the Massachusetts grocery chain where employees stopped work to show their support for his leadership: their words and action, and most importantly , how they spent their time as a leader speak volumes to their organizations.
Consistency of word, action and direction creates a powerful cycle in the business: this consistency alone builds trust and transparency and alignment that enable a team or an organization to have the confidence to take action. Inconsistency undermines that confidence and stops progress in its tracks.
So whatever type or style of leader you are, whatever kind of business challenge you face, take a moment and step back. Are you balancing your hard choices with consistent word, deeds and direction that help your team know where to go and why it matters?
“Hard” business decisions alone don’t drive results …leadership does.
Amanda Young Hickman is co-founder of Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich, immersive business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.