A Lack of Action Verbs is Causing Leadership Failure

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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.