People Don’ t Listen to What You Say

Truths About Leadership Nobody Wants to Hear Part 3

“As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” Andrew Carnegie

In the course of my work I often get to ask people what their “priorities” are. There are two problems with this. The word “priority”, much like “integrity” or “quality” has so many meanings to so many different people that it’s meaningless.

Photo Credit: Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería
Photo Credit:
Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería

Second, as “Think Like A Freak” points out, simply asking people what’s important to them doesn’t necessarily work. Not that people are being deliberately deceptive. They’ll just often give you the answer they think you want, and then go do what they really want to.

So I’ve started asking my clients to start tracking how they spend their time. There are a couple of ways to do this: Set a time for a regular interval and write down what you’re doing when it goes off. Set an alarm a given number of times at random intervals during the day and write down what you’re doing when it goes off. Or just be really disciplined about writing down how you spend every moment.

It’s a bit of a pain, but it’s a very interesting exercise in self-awareness if you’ve never done it before. You can do it for yourself is you like. At the end of a week look for the patterns and figure out what they tell you, if anything. FYI the random interval timer gives the best data sampling.

What’s the point? Show me documented evidence of how you spend your time, and I’ll tell you what your priorities really are.

Our Blind Spots

This exercise is not about judging and shaming. If you want to spend ten hours a day cruising the internet for cat videos then fill your proverbial puss-in-boots. But if you tell others (or more importantly yourself) that “family”, “career”, etc. are the most important things in your life, and you spend 10 hours a day cruising the internet for cat videos, then you might have some decisions to make.

We all have blind spots when it comes to ourselves. Most of us think we’re the only ones that don’t, because, well, it’s our blind spot. We watch what others do, not just what they say, but we all don’t watch ourselves.

So what?

People are watching you. Not just listening to the words that come out of your mouth. How you say things, your facial expressions, your eye contact, your body language. They watch your work – the quantity, quality, and timeliness of your work. Who you spend time with, what you spend time on, and the decisions you make when deadlines loom and budgets escape their cages. How you treat customers, which suppliers you use, and who you hire and fire.

Especially who you hire or fire – how fast you do it, for what reasons (stated and implied), who gets promoted, who gets training, who gets chosen for special projects, who gets assigned to what work, and so on.

You say more with these actions than you ever will with a poster of company values in the lunchroom. And if your actions and the poster are inconsistent with each other, guess which one they’ll believe?

The Hard Work

Deciding what not to do. It’s really really hard. So hard that many people go look at cat videos instead. But it’s liberating.

Take a look at your to-do list now. What’s been hanging around the longest without being done? If it’s still really important then do it. Actually spend time moving it forward. If not, cross it off your list and don’t look back. You’re free now – you have more time to do what’ really important.

Then do that again tomorrow…

Leadership Truths Nobody Wants to Talk About Part 2: Your Authority is Meaningless

With a nod to James Clear, “6 Truths About Exercise Nobody Wants to Believe” for the inspiration

What are you going to stop doing?

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