Show and "Tells"
"Your actions are speaking so loudly, I can hardly hear what you are saying."
This is a quote from a webinar on the presence of leaders that I took recently. A leader's presence reflects their underlying values—it's how they wear their values. A leader with integrity embodies the values that they articulate. We often have inner narratives that help us make sense of and respond to the world around us. If we believe one thing on the inside and say another thing on the outside, our actions often provide "tells" that point to the discrepancy.
These "tells" may be obvious actions like habitually showing up late for or mentally "checking out" during meetings for a committee we don't really want to be on. But they may also be micro-actions that are more subtle, like body language or facial expressions. Sometime we aren't even aware of our inner narrative, let alone how that narrative might be showing up in our actions. In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, leadership guru Patrick Lencioni describes a phenomenon called the Fundamental Attribution Error:
We human beings tend to falsely attribute the negative behavior of others to their character, while we attribute our own negative behaviors to our environment. In other words, we like to believe that we do bad things because of the situations we are in, but somehow we assume that others do bad things because they are predisposed to being bad. In the same way, we often attribute other people’s success to their environment and our own success to our character. That’s because we like to believe that we are inherently good and talented, while others are merely luck, beneficiaries of good fortune.
In other words, if I am late for a meeting, I might blame it on needing to finish helping the kids with homework or that there was an accident causing a traffic back-up. However, the first time someone else is late for a meeting, I may create an inner narrative explaining their behavior. I might make the assumption that they are undependable or don't care. I may make assumptions about lateness related to the person's culture or identity or mental health. And if this is happening internally, you can be pretty sure that there is something in my actions, especially my micro-actions, that will reveal a "tell" about this internal narrative. And if you participate in "complaint-fests" with other leaders, you can be pretty sure that the folks you are "complaining" about will pick up on that vibe. (Habitual tardiness, on the other hand, should be reason for a direct conversation with the person about commitment and whether this particular service is a good fit.) A good guiding rule to is to remember that an important part of being a faithful, self-differentiated leader is to resist diagnosing or pre-judging others.