Eight Leadership Mistakes: #2 – Not Doing What You Say You Were Going to Do

A recent article, Eight Mistakes Leaders Make That Kill Employee Trust, briefly discussed different management shortcomings and problems that we may unknowingly have or use, which can ruin employees’ respect for us. I wanted to address each of these mistakes and help you learn how to avoid them.

The original title of this leadership mistake was “Not doing what you say you were going to do.” Which means the reverse is to say what you’re going to do and do what you say.

It’s the same advice parenting experts give when they tell us how to deal with our kids. Not that I’m comparing employees to children. Rather, we as people want a leader’s — or peer’s — words and actions to match and be consistent. We wanted that when we were children and we want it as adults.

But it’s much more important when you’re a leader, whether your words and actions are good, bad, or indifferent. This helps develop respect and trust among your staff.

For example, I had a policy of locking the door whenever a meeting was scheduled to start, so anyone who was not in the room by the time the meeting started would not be able to get in. One day, my son, who worked for the company (someone else hired him, not me) was late to one of my meetings. I had already locked the door, and when he showed up, I wouldn’t let him in.

When I made that decision, I knew I was going to get in a lot of trouble when I got home, but I also knew it was important because I didn’t want it to look like I would do and say two different things, or that I would show favoritism to my son strictly because he was my son.

Instead, it reinforced how important it was for people to show up early to my meetings, and it rarely, if ever, happened again by anyone. Especially my son.

Sticking to your word when it really matters

It was sticking to my word on the small incidents that helped me deal with the bigger incidents, and gave me the resolve to say what I was going to do and to do what I said. Because there were several times during my career when it was vitally important.

Aerial photo of Downtown Cleveland. This is where I learned how to avoid another of the big leadership mistakes.
Downtown Cleveland.

Years ago, I took over a business in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. The building took up a whole city block and it was three stories high. And in that business there were 3 unions: the Teamsters, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and the International Association of Machinists (IAM). The Teamsters controlled the office people, the IBEW controlled the assembly and production workers, and the IAM controlled the material handlers and the elevator crew.

This was a failing business and it was at a time when the big box companies — Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s — were starting to go into their own private labeling. So therefore they would take the product you would sell to them and either go around you to your vendor and make a better deal. Or they would find a vendor who would take off your label and put theirs on it.

I had to do something with this business to save it. I met with the three unions and said, “This isn’t going well. As a matter of fact, a little more grease and we’ll just slide down to the bottom faster. So I need a whole bunch of cooperation from each of your groups, and we have to get past all our philosophical differences. If we can’t, I have to shut this business down and move it out of state.”

And they all gave me the finger.

So nine months later, I shut the business down and moved it to Elgin, Illinois.

I moved there because the organization I was with had an idle facility in Elgin, so it didn’t make a lot of sense to not utilize an idle facility. We packed up all the machines and I moved the entire operation 400 miles away.

When they saw all the preparation and realized I was serious, they became very cooperative. But I said, “I’m sorry, it’s too late, because the ball is rolling. You didn’t believe what I said, and you weren’t willing to help me save this company. The world is changing and we have to learn to change with it.”

The business had been there for nearly 40 years, but we had to move to save it.

The offshoot was that I developed a reputation among the unions that if I said something I generally meant it. I was always straight with them, and always told them the truth, whether they wanted to hear it or not.

After that, whenever I have gone into businesses where these unions existed, I always got pretty good cooperation. I always made sure to treat everyone fairly and give them the best deal I could. But they also knew that if I said something, I meant it, and I was going to do it.

And that all started with following through on the little things, like locking people out of meetings for being late.

I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Photo credit: Paul M. Walsh (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

Author: David Marshall
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.