I’m sitting in my office this afternoon getting ready for the week ahead. Tomorrow we have all of our school leaders in and I always start with an opening presentation to our Learning Leadership Team. Later in the week, we will gather as a division and I will address our entire staff. Even though I’m well known in our Division, comfortable in presenting to large groups and speaking in public, there is a certain amount of nervousness that I feel. I embrace that nervous feeling because it reminds me how important my words are in relationship to my actions, that will follow. It is essential that there is alignment between what the leader says and what the leader does.
Credibility is one of the byproducts of that alignment. Kouzes and Posner (2011) noted in their book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, “According to our empirical data, the majority of people look for (and) admire leaders who are honest, forward-thinking, inspiring, and competent…While the exact order might vary from country to country, these same four qualities remain at the top of the list of what people everywhere want from their leaders.” (p. 7) Just achieving these four qualities, honesty, forward-thinking, inspiring and competent is a tall task and if you think differently, you are either ignorant or arrogant. Credibility is certainly foundational for leadership success and is enhanced through alignment.
The alignment of words and action also builds a culture of trust. For organizations to achieve greatness, a high level of trust must exist. While there will always be decisions made and actions taken that impact organizational trust, it needs to be one of the leader’s non-negotiable goals. Great organizations exude professional trust which Douglas Reeves (2016) reminds us is a “two-way street.” It manifests itself throughout the organization- bottom up and top down. High levels of trust in an organization allows for vulnerability for all but especially the leader. Leaders cannot come across as all knowing robots without any human touch! Being vulnerable makes leaders real. Leaders will make errors and it is far easier to face the music when the organization knows the leader’s true value from the heart and the head.
Finally, aligning words and actions makes the leader (and all of us) far more accountable. And by the way, accountability is not necessarily a swear word in education or business. Personally as a leader, my stock goes down when I over promise and under deliver, when I say one thing and do another and when I shirk my accountability to those I lead. My accountability standard should be very high because in truth, our staff, students and communities deserve nothing less!
Leadership is a complex task and a very difficult role-if it wasn’t, the world would have an abundance of great leaders. There are so many nuances that non-leaders or poor leaders usually don’t understand or can’t comprehend. The fact is that leadership counts and it should be taken with great seriousness. As I continue my preparation now and into the future, I should always be slightly nervous when I’m addressing staff because the tone at the top will set the either the right or wrong direction. Align your words and actions to set the right direction!