doodle01511A recent series of articles from Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper featured Isadore Sharp’s new book, Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy. One thing that struck me when reading this was an expression that too many leaders don’t internalize nor demonstrate as often as they should: “We are only what we do, not what we say we are.” Of course, there are many variations of this mantra: “Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk” or “Actions speak louder than words.” But when reading this piece, it hit me. These are not just words on a page or ancient words of wisdom that don’t have any real place in our modern day worlds. We all must read expressions like this and, as leaders, live them to their fullest intentions. Merely giving lip service to employees, partners, superiors, etc. does not make for an authentic leader.

Too many leaders, along with their communications staff, spend too much time thinking about how to say whatever it is they need to say. And, for sure, I commend those with the gift of gab for whom communicating clearly and with well-chosen words comes easy. I’ve surely written about the tremendously valuable ability to communicate clearly on my blog over the past year and think it is, without a doubt, one of the most critical skills anyone in business [and it really isn’t nor should be limited at all to people working in the business world] can possess. However, as important as such communications are, the benefits from them can be completely eroded when the actions don’t support the words. How often have people in our lives, be it in professional or personal circumstances, said one thing and done another? What are we to believe when such things occur?

One way that Isadore Sharp has integrated both communications and actions is in the creation of the “Glitch Report.” Every department at the hotel creates a diary of the previous day’s mistakes and uses this to both inform teams of issues and to ensure that, wherever possible, those mistakes are not replicated. Isadore Sharp explains this approach in this interview with National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel blog:

By keeping close tabs on what’s happening at the hotel every day, the management team has the ability to work closely with staff to continually teach, reinforce and empower them to make great customer service decisions.

This is not to say that there are times when our actions can’t match our words. We can have the greatest intentions to follow up our words with the appropriate actions, only to realize subsequently that we cannot do as we have said. In such times, express the changing circumstances aloud and let others know that you are fully aware that your prior words cannot be supported by current actions. In this way, you can demonstrate the realization that your initial words and actions won’t match, but you can modify the words, provide explanation, if necessary, and get your words and actions re-aligned to one another. People may not like the change, but they cannot disregard the effort to openly communicate and to keep the synchronicity of words and actions required for a trusted relationship intact.

This follows along my philosophy of telling it like it is. I know that this approach won’t please all of the people all of the time; but, it will allow all of the people to know where I stand all of the time. And given the choice of pleasing everyone all of the time [as if this could even happen] or being authentic and having all of the people know that what I say is so, I will always choose being regarded as authentic and honest to my words. And this recalls my belief about leaders in general in regard to the expression: “it is better to be respected and not liked than to be liked and not respected.”

Isadore Sharp understands that actions tell others who we are and what kind of person we are. He spent years evangelizing his laser focus on service and living up to the expression “We are only what we do, not what we say we are.” These words are easy to say but challenging to live up to. It required shifting mindsets, delegating responsibilities, giving up control when necessary, firing people who did not live up to the credo, despite them being competent in various other areas, and other such actions that demonstrated the seriousness with which his company was going to follow this path. Without a doubt, to those who have ever had the good fortune to stay at a Four Seasons hotel, the service ethic has been instilled throughout every level within the company. From the bellmen who greet arriving cars, to chamber maids, to wait staff and desk personnel. The Four Seasons chain of hotels demonstrates the possibilities of a corporate-wide focus on doing the right thing, not just saying the right words.

Today, the Four Seasons Hotel & Resorts “is considered among the finest luxury hotels worldwide, according to Travel + Leisure magazine and Zagat Survey, and operates 78 hotels in 32 countries including 22 AAA Five-Diamond properties.” Now if we can only get business leaders in all sorts of companies, industries and countries to follow the Four Seasons approach!

Nina Nets It Out:Words are just that…they’re words. If we say we are going to do one thing and we do another, of what value are the words we spoke? Clearly, we all want to be considered honest, authentic leaders. To achieve this, we must make certain to maintain synchronicity between what we say and what we do. If you must do something that differs from your words, at least offer an explanation and demonstrate your awareness of the discrepancy. The importance of this cannot be overstated for leaders who wish to be held in high regard and worthy of being considered a leader.