The Power of Our Words and Actions

As leaders, our words plus our actions must be consistent every day. Words matter. But actions matter more.

“Words are important; actions are vital, but don’t just show your thoughts through your words or actions! Let your unique works speak your thought and action!”
― Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

Gerald Ratner is a legend in England. Not for his charity work, or his business skills or the way he ran his $500 million jewelry company. None of those achievements made him well known across the pond. What made him famous was a screwup. While speaking to the Institute of Directors at the Royal Albert Hall on April 23, 1991, he said:

“We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, “How can you sell this for such a low price?” I say, “because it’s total crap.” He compounded this by going on to remark that one of the sets of earrings was “cheaper than a Marks & Spencer prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long.”

Before too long, Ratner’s company that he worked so hard to build came crashing down. One single off-hand meaningless trying to be funny remark sent the company into a major tailspin, which ultimately caused Ratner’s firing from his company. To Gerald Ratner, it was a joke, to everyone else, it was how he honestly felt.

As leaders, our words plus our actions must be consistent every day. Words matter. But actions matter more. Saying—then not doing is the quickest way to destroy the culture. Each time you address team members, what you say matters, and what you do, becomes ingrained into the culture. For example, if the company needs to become more fiscally responsible, then spending money on corner suites, private planes, or any other “so-called perks” by the leader will never allow the words to hold meaning. You might feel you have worked hard to become the boss. Therefore, the perks should come your way. But wanting perks, and believing your entitled demonstrates a lack of self-discipline.

We all need to follow Ulysses S. Grant’s behavior when he checked into the Willard Hotel without fanfare near the end of the Civil War. The desk clerk informed him that the rooms were sparse, and all they could offer was a small room on the top floor. Grant, who was due to meet President Lincoln the next day, never proclaimed his importance or demanded to see the manager because, after all, he was the highest-ranking General in the US Army. Grant accepted the situation and proceeded to his room. Ulysses S. Grant’s actions on this day told the entire story. He valued the culture he created over any perks. His words were in harmony with his works, unlike Mr. Gerald Ratner.

The next time you want the perks, or attempt to be funny, be careful because your position and culture are at stake!

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