A Lack of Action Verbs is Causing Leadership Failure

At the risk of being obvi­ous, lead­ers should always inspire action. But if a strat­egy isn’t inspir­ing action, maybe it’s not a good strat­egy. In this arti­cle, I’ll tell you how a lack of action verbs is caus­ing lead­er­ship failure.

It’s easy for the planner/leader to for­get that, to be suc­cess­ful, my “aha” moment (strate­gic insight) needs to action­able, not just vision­ary. I have to turn state­ments like “be bet­ter at cus­tomer ser­vice” into a list of actions, like “show each cus­tomer you under­stand before mov­ing to a solu­tion or a sale.” This means lead­ers need to use more action verbs.

Remem­ber that “be” is a goal. As in “I want to be famous.” But actions reflect process, and process is what gets you there. Like “I will learn to post inter­est­ing twit­ter con­tent that makes peo­ple want to share.”

We Trick Our­selves into Lead­er­ship Failure

We trick our­selves into think­ing we get it. We invent a goal, but fail to cre­ate a model of what it looks like and the actions it takes to get us there. We share our goal, and some­one asks us “What do you mean by that,” and we don’t know what to say.

I real­ized this while read­ing Leisa’s very smart blog post about strate­gists who spend months work­ing on a plan that nobody else seems to understand.

The solu­tion? Lead­ers need to bridge the gap between strat­egy and actions.

How Lead­ers Can Bridge the Gap

Strate­gists and busi­ness con­sul­tants don’t always under­stand how their strate­gies will meet every­day tasks. They sim­ply stop at the higher-level things with­out con­nect­ing them to the every­day, either because they don’t offer to see it through or the client doesn’t want it.

This is where the leader needs to trans­late what he can (to the rest of the orga­ni­za­tion) and push the strate­gists (using good ques­tions) to better-develop the rest.

The Good News: This can be Learned

First, remem­ber that action is evi­dence of strat­egy. Great writ­ers know that action verbs show, and mod­i­fiers only tell. So pay atten­tion to the words you use. Strate­gists should show by using action verbs to con­nect peo­ple to their part in the big­ger plan.

Sec­ond, tell each per­son only what mat­ters the them. If you’re try­ing to inspire that jan­i­tor, it’s okay to be gen­eral (not vague; just gen­eral) until you get to his level in the orga­ni­za­tion. Then be spe­cific about why his job mat­ters. So it’s like “We’re doing x. This is how it might affect your work.”

Third, accel­er­ate the process by call­ing me. If I can teach col­lege stu­dents to do it, I can help you by work­ing through a project or two together, giv­ing you sup­port and insights, while mak­ing sure you’re the owner of the project.

This isn’t a magic wand, and many lead­ers aren’t able to take the time or energy to get this sorted out.

This post inspired by: Every­one is doing strat­egy right now. – dis­am­bi­gu­ity.

About Chris: As a uni­ver­sity instruc­tor and con­sul­tant, he’s helped orga­ni­za­tions coor­di­nate long-term strat­egy and action with­out dis­rupt­ing the orga­ni­za­tion. If this sounds use­ful to you, get in touch.

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