How Effective Leaders’ Actions Speak Louder Than Their Words!

Do you sometimes find your team doesn’t understand your priority?  If so, they are probably confused by your actions not your words.  So what can a leader do to ensure their actions speak louder than their words?

In a previous post, A Big Problem With Problem Solving, an example was given where the team believed the leaders placed a higher priority on productivity over quality which ultimately resulted in a significant quality defect.  I received a question from a reader that many leaders often face, and struggle with, on how best to address the following type of unfortunately common issue:

The perception of team members that some attributes (i.e. cost and delivery) take precedence over other attributes (i.e. quality) has concerned me several times.  How do you suggest this can be changed?

A leader’s actions not only have to align with their words, the actions must speak louder than the words!  Also, actions have to be consistent and unwavering from the words particularly when in a time of pressure or crisis.  For example, if you always say safety is the most important thing, that you care for your team, and that you will not risk their safety for any reason, and then when you are under the gun to deliver on time, you instruct your team, or otherwise turn a blind eye, to by-pass a safety standard, process or policy, you’re done.  These are opportunities where your actions can speak louder than your words.  Imagine if during this same example, you shut down the operation until it could be done safely?  Of course there may be a negative impact such as missing on-time delivery, but over the long term, and as it relates to the culture and relationship with your team, which is more important?

Two real examples come to my mind that emphasize these points very well.  The first related to a safety issue that was identified but didn’t cause an immediate safety risk.  Only under certain conditions and situations was there some risk.  Many involved believed that with additional training and other controls in place, the risk could be adequately mitigated.  Further more, the condition had existed for some time but had only just been identified and become known.  Stopping the operation would no doubt impact the customer and add cost to the business.  The timeline to address the issue was significant, costly, and would impair the operation until addressed.  The leader involved, demonstrated conviction to their words of safety first, and shutdown the operation and kept it down until the safety issue was properly addressed.

I was directly involved in this second example and remember the situation like it was yesterday!  Production was behind schedule and as we worked hard to catch up, the quality indicators started to decline but remained within target.  On this particular day, the first passed yield dropped significantly, meaning a lot of rework would be required and the actual completed volume would be lower, adding to the stress of the situation.  We had always and consistently communicated that our top priority, second only to safety, was quality.  I called the management team together and requested that we shutdown the plant and conduct a quality stand-down with the entire plant.  They looked at me like I was out of my mind!  They raised concerns with the additional lost volume this action would result in, not to mention the costs!  We shutdown and communicated the quality concerns, what the top issues were, what the operators could do to improve quality, and reconfirmed our leadership priority and commitment to quality over productivity/volume.  The recognition and appreciation from the team was incredible, which boosted the morale and pride of the operators for being part of an operation that placed quality ahead of productivity.  They wanted to believe!

They wanted to believe!

These examples describe real life crisis situations many leaders have and will no doubt face in their careers.  It is during these times, that true leadership and commitment to a leader’s words, values, and standards is tested and demonstrated.  It is during these times, you either build or destroy your culture and leadership trust.  These decisions are never easy, even though they should be, because of the other ramifications and consequences they create.  However, I’d suggest that typically those consequences are short term focused.  If you lead with the long term in mind, the decision is clearer and easier to make.

The same holds true for a non-crisis day.  Your actions must be consistent with your words.  You can’t walk by or ignore anything that doesn’t align with your words.  You must take action.  For example, no matter what else is happening at the moment, walking past something or someone that is unsafe when you say safety is your top priority, completely discredits your words of the past, present and future.  Look for opportunities to emphasize your priorities and reinforce your words every chance you can find.  Always explain “why” one thing is a priority over another.  If you need to focus on something else that might give the perception that your priority has changed, explain why you are focusing on the other and that it has not in fact superseded the higher priority.

Leave a comment with what you do to ensure your actions speak louder than your words!

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Together We Can - Values in Action!

#31 Together We Can, Values In Action!

Change the world… But where was I to start?  The world is so vast, I shall start with the country I know best, my own.  But my country is so very large.  I had better start with my town.  But my town, too, is large.  I had best start with my street.  No: my family.  Never mind.  I shall start with myself.

Elie Wiesel

Leadership, Personal Development

“But that is your job!”

As leaders, we all have a lot of demands on our time.  Sometimes, it is easy to get caught up in other things and forget that one of the primary responsibilities we have as leaders is to support our teams.  It might be surprising, but in reality our teams are not there to support us.   Leaders are there to support their teams!  Of course a primary job of a leader is to set the vision and direction that the team needs to go, but after that, our job is to facilitate the team in accomplishing and reaching those goals.

How do you think you stack up in this area?

What would your team say about you?

I’ve realized recently that I need to get better at this.  I know this is a key and important part of my role, but I’m not as good at this as I need or want to be.  You know what I mean?  The frown or sigh you make when one of your team drops by your office and says “Bill, do you have a minute?”.  Sure, you are in the middle of catching up on emails, or reading that monthly report and it interrupts your train of thought.  You aren’t necessarily making the gesture or sound effect towards the individual, but nevertheless, the impact it has on your team is tremendous.

I remember when I worked in a totally open office concept and an engineer came to my desk to ask me a question.  We had a brief conversation and I answered his questions after which he walked away.  Then I sighed and made a comment to the person next who was like my Sensei, that, “It is impossible to get anything done around here without getting interrupted!”.  He looked at me with a surprised look on his face and very sternly said,

But that is your job!

He went on to explain to me that the purpose of my role as a leader was to be there for my team.  To answer their questions, provide direction, coach them, teach them…

I never forgot that.  He was so right!  Ever since then, I have made a concerted effort to make myself accessible.  However, what I realized recently is that I had gone too far.  If I wasn’t in a meeting or on a phone call my door was open, and I encouraged anyone to come in anytime.   In my attempt to give my time to my team, I hadn’t given any time to myself.  To my surprise, the complete opposite to what I was intending was happening;  my “open door policy” had lead to frustration on my part which resulted in a poor experience for someone that did come to see me.

I’ve talked to my team about this and they have given me some suggestions because they also realize, I need time to work and get things done.  They don’t expect me to be available whenever they want, but they do want access to me and want to know I will get back to them.  After all, we all do need to get things done that require our full attention and concentration.  So the first suggestion I have, is to discuss accessibility with your team and get their input as to what they need and expect of you.

Below are a few suggestions to help make yourself more accessible to your team and more supportive when you do:

  • Determine the best days and times of day when you are at your best to receive your team and give them your full attention.  Similarly, determine when your best time of day is to focus and get your own things done.  Plan your schedule with these times in mind.
  • Have open “office hours” in your schedule and communicate in advance to your team to which anyone can drop by to see you.  You may want to schedule the person in to avoid conflicts, but the point is that the time slot is always open in your schedule until someone books it.
  • Close your door or go somewhere private when you cannot afford to be interrupted, but set a time frame as to how long you will do so before coming up for air.
  • Establish an SLA or Service Level Agreement to which you will respond to emails or other requests and commit to it.  Mine is 24 hours.
  • Schedule regular 1:1s with each of your team and allow them to discuss whatever they want to discuss as a priority ahead of anything you want to discuss.
  • Establish informal opportunities to have discussions with them, such as meeting offsite for a coffee, lunch or sometimes dinner.
  • If someone does come to see you, or calls, and you are in the middle of something important that requires your full attention,
    • Ask if it is urgent – nothing worse than telling someone you will get back to them later then finding out it is a drop what you are doing 911!
    • If not urgent, explain to them that you are in the middle of something that you need to get finished, but that you will get back to them by a specific time.  Make sure you do!
  • When someone does drop in to see you, or during a scheduled meeting with you, turn your phone upside down so you can’t see the screen and leave it away from where you are, turn off notifications, lock your lap top and give them your full attention.  Turn and face the person.  At the end of the discussion, summarize what you discussed, agreed upon, and the follow up dates/requirements.

Coincidentally, as I was drafting this post in my mind, I came across a post by John Hall  on social media that was similar in concept and had some great advice.  Worth a read:

Why saying I don’t have time is a great way to lose trust of your teammates

Leave a comment with what you find is a great way in which you give your time to your team.

Contact me:

You can email me with any questions at, find me on Facebook at, or on Twitter at

If you are enjoying my posts and find the information useful, please “Follow” me by entering your email in the follow box on the right-hand menu of my website

Together We Can - Values in Action!

#30 Together We Can, Values In Action!

Deposit generously… When you uphold a commitment to someone or pay a sincere compliment, you make deposits in an emotional bank account.  When you fail to keep a promise or support that person, you make withdrawals.  For teamwork to occur all group members need high emotional bank accounts with each other.

Problem Solving

A Big Problem With Problem Solving

Far too often, there is a big problem with our team’s problem solving.  This problem not only results in ineffective countermeasures and re-occurrence of the problem, but can also break the trust between the leaders and the team or operators.

When problem solving or reviewing a root cause analysis with your team, if the root cause is determined to be the operator(s) not following standard work, your “spidey senses” should be going off!  Seldom is not following standard work the root cause, but rather it should be the starting point of an in-depth analysis.  Unfortunately, it is far too common for leaders to determine that the root cause of a safety, quality or productivity issue is a result of not following standard work and they place “blame” upon the operator(s) for not doing so.  It is common, that when a process has been in control and then suddenly there is an issue, it is likely a standardized work issue, but even if so, that is not the root cause.  Of course, any one of the 6Ms; Man, Method, Material, Machine, Mother Nature, or Measure could also be an issue.  However, if it is a standard work violation, it is super critical to determine the root cause as to why the operator did not follow the standard work.  If they are fully trained operators and/or are aware of the standard work, there will be a reason why they missed or stopped following it.  Our job as leaders is to find out why.  When we do, what we find is usually a golden nugget!

I fundamentally believe that operators do not wake up in the morning thinking of how they will not follow standard work that day.  They just do not!  Therefore, if they do not follow standard work, there is a VERY good reason for it!  They either cannot follow the standard work due to an issue with one of the other 5Ms, think they have determined a more efficient way of performing their task, or were distracted or interrupted, to name a few.  In any case, we need to determine why they did not follow the standard work so that we can address the root cause.  Often when the root cause is determined to be the operator not following standard work, the counter measures are poor and obviously will not solve the problem, and improvements, if made at all, are not sustainable. The number one countermeasure I have seen in these cases are to “re-train” the operators or issue a communication to “remind them of the importance to follow standard work”.  These type of counter measures rarely, if ever, address the root cause, upset the operators and break trust because they know the leaders are not listening or investigating deeply enough, and actions are not sustainable.  The issue will pop up its ugly head again; it is just a matter of time.  Sometimes, the cause of not following the standard work can even be a hidden cultural issue within your organization.

Over the years, I have experienced many times where my team has determined the root cause of an issue as a standard work violation.  After some coaching and a request to start the root cause analysis at why the operator was not following standard work, the teams made some amazing findings.  Sometimes they found there were parts and materials out of specification within a specific lot, stacking of tolerance issues, and interruptions in their standard work by other processes, line downtime, periodic work, etc.   In all cases though, there was a very good explanation as to why the operator missed or did not follow the standard work.  Sometimes, to determine the root cause, a great deal of digging was required, and that root cause found was not pretty!

One of the most memorable experiences and examples for me was when we had a significant quality issue on a customer’s car on their initial drive home from the dealership.  The process of concern had automated equipment with multiple pokeyokes designed to prevent process completion unless critical to quality aspects and been performed and verified.  Trials conducted on the equipment confirming functionality that the equipment was working as designed and expected were completed.  The initial conclusion as to root cause was that the operators were not following standard work and on occasion when the equipment faulted, would by-pass the automation and pokeyokes.  Engineers made improvements in fault detection, tractability, and installed additional pokeyokes on the equipment to remove all potential of manually over-riding the process.  We retrained Operators and reminded them about the importance to follow standard work.  Then there was a second occurrence after the implementation of all the described countermeasures!  How was that possible!!!  To make a long story short, line leaders, not operators, were determined to be by-passing the process altogether and had implemented an off-line uncontrolled process in the event that the main line went down.  They were doing this because they wanted to keep the line going to prevent downtime and loss of productivity.  Although they had the best of intentions, this was the wrong thing to do.  However, it was not their fault.  I, and the senior leaders, had given these line leaders the perception that productivity was more important than quality.  The culture that we had allowed to become ingrained defied everything that we had attempted to create and thought we had created.  We had a significant cultural issue; this was not a standard work issue at all.  Not following standard work was an issue, but it was just a symptom of an altogether much different and bigger issue.

Another example of where a team felt that root cause was operators not following known standards was because the operators were relatively new and inexperienced in their process.  The corrective actions were to retrain and to conduct periodic audits to catch the operators not following standard work and then to remind them to do so.  Your spider senses should be going crazy!  We requested the team to dig deeper and coached them on the importance of starting with why the operators were not following standard work.  What they found was enlightening!  Important dimensions of key materials used in the process had changed over time; however, adjustments to the equipment used in the process to accommodate the changes in the materials were not completed.  In addition, they identified an impactful non-standard layout issue by talking with the operators through seeking to understand why they were not following the standard work.

So develop and hone your “spidey senses” to be on alert to standard work violations identified as the root cause of an issue.  Coach your teams to start there and dig deep to understand why an operator would not follow the standard work.  An obvious, but also often overlooked step, ask the operator why they missed or did not follow standard work.  Do not accept the “I don’t know” or “I forgot” answers.  Worse, do not assume they negligently chose not to follow the standard work.  I guarantee there is more to it.  If you get these types of answers, it is imperative to coach the operator on the importance of understanding what is preventing or resulting in them not following standard work, as it is key to addressing a problem they are clearly experiencing.

Contact me:

You can email me with any questions at, find me on Facebook at, or on Twitter at

If you are enjoying my posts and find the information useful, please “Follow” me by entering your email in the follow box on the right-hand menu of my website