Actions vs. Words

In today’s society, false promises seem to be the norm. These generate feelings of distrust, dislike and lack of commitment. It reminds me a bit of the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Everyone knows the story – a little boy lies to get attention and does it so frequently without remorse that when the time comes that help is truly needed, no one shows up to help him.

We use this story to teach the value of telling the truth, yet our leaders seem to have forgotten this fable. How many of us can recall a time when one of our leaders – whether at work, in our government or in life – have made empty or false promises? Have demanded specific actions within a seemingly unrealistic timeframe when they weren’t really needed?

I believe it’s the persistent actions of our leaders who consistently say one thing and do something else that lead to such a strong rate of disengagement and distrust. In fact, one of the data points we frequently share from the Gallup Organization is that 70% of the workforce is disengaged – and that number has not shifted much in the more than 20 years the Gallup Organization has been gathering data for their State of the American Workforce Report.


So what now? I think our leaders need to revisit the stories and fables of childhood (timeless wisdom) to learn the importance of speaking the truth, to remember that actions often speak louder than words, and, perhaps most importantly, to hold themselves and others accountable for their actions and their words. There are three areas where I believe this can – and should – start:

  • Transparency – Be open about why certain requests are being made or why deadlines exist. People are likely more willing to help when they are clear on their requirements and expectations, while also understanding why they’re working toward a specific goal. Share meaningful information and ensure clarity.
  • Stopping false or empty promises – Eventually, even your most dedicated employees / followers will start to question your statements, and you’ll see increased rates of disinterest, disengagement and mistrust. How likely are you to follow someone who makes promises that have no basis in reality?
  • Follow-through / commitment – In the same vein as empty promises, don’t make a commitment you can’t or won’t keep. Be honest about what you can and can’t deliver, and follow-through on the promises you make. Be true to your word.

For an updated version of the wisdom of the fables, read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Truth, honesty and personal accountability are the cornerstones of all relationships.

Think about the leaders in your workplace or the people you consider leaders in your life, whether by title or role. Do they earn this role by their behaviors? What lesson does this share with you? 

Take Action
Consider one small change that can help you shift your behaviors from words to action: make your words actionable. Instead of saying, “this needs to change,” consider saying, “here’s how I’d suggest this changes.” Instead of saying, “something needs to be done,” consider saying, “what if we tried this approach to move this project toward completion?”

A slight change in language not only makes your words actionable, but also starts to hold yourself accountable for the outcome. Try it out. See what changes for you in work and life and how others respond to your shift to action and accountability. You might just inspire them to do the same.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Are You the Great Pretender?

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