Leadership Lessons from What a President Doesn’t Say

Emotion Zipping Mouth-Leadership Lessons What A President Does Not Say by Carol RingWhile the global media outlets have had a field day reporting what President Trump utters and tweets, other leaders are taking note of what he doesn’t say. In particular, the events at Charlottesville have proven to be a turning point.

Everyone’s listening

Business leaders who agreed to be part of Trump’s Manufacturing Council in the hopes of building a better America now find themselves at odds with the President. Not for what he said in his initial response to the disruption in Charlottesville, but more so for what he didn’t say.  The claim is that while he acknowledged that the activities were despicable, he placed the blame on “many sides” and failed to call out white supremacists.

Influential business leaders have been watching the President. When he dismissed the Paris Climate Accord, Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk and Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger resigned from the council.  Now, four days after Trump’s initial comments and several attempts to clear the air since, four more Council CEO’s have decided to distance themselves from one of the most influential leaders in the world.

Who’s checking out?

You may be tempted to shake this off as just a “Trump” thing, but stop. I’d like you to consider this quote by Robert Fulghum. “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you”.   I challenge you to reflect upon this quote with one slight edit: Don’t worry that employees never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.

You don’t have to be a President or a Prime Minister or a Queen to have your constituents start checking out. Less than 30% of our employees are actively inspired to come to work every day. And, they are making the decision to support their leaders just like the CEO’s of the Manufacturing Council.

They start by believing in the cause and wanting to be part of the solution. But upon observing the communications, the actions, and the unspoken words of the leaders, their inspiration declines. Employees start to compare the demonstrated values with their own personal values. When they don’t line up, people check out.

Silence says it all

It’s a team effort.  It’s not just the CEO, it’s also about the team surrounding the leader. If the CEO condones their actions, it’s another unspoken action sending a message. When I was brought in to turn around a poor performing unit, I needed a leadership team aligned with the values required for success.  One of my directors had worked for the company for a long time and was considered untouchable.  However, he believed in empire building and information hoarding, qualities that just didn’t support an environment where teamwork and collaboration were key.

I had two choices. Take action and send one message or remain silent and leave things the way they were.  This would send a very different message. You see, the non-actions and the words you don’t express have just as much, if not more, of an impact on how the work gets done around you. And, when coaching didn’t deliver the desired results it was time for him to move on. It was a big message, people took note and our shift to success sped up.

What you’re not saying

What situations are you tolerating in your workplace? How could your lack of action be impacting the culture and productivity of your organization? What should you be talking about that you’re not? When you’re preparing your communications, be clear about the message you want to send. Then again, look at what you’re not saying.

Author Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “”What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” There’s no question President Trump is loud in both his words and his actions. However, what he doesn’t say and doesn’t do is just as impactful. And, it’s helping to shape the current culture of the United States. I believe he has presented us with a clear opportunity to think about how we show up as leaders and how we’re shaping the culture of our organizations. The American people are hoping for a better America, and your employees are hoping for a better workplace.

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