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Do As I Say, Not As I Do

by David Brock on September 11th, 2009

It’s hard to practice what we preach.  In honesty, sometimes, I want to just tell people to do as I say, not as I do.

It’s so easy and seductive to fall into bad habits.  The press of deadlines, the ever expanding list of to-do’s, the rush of everyday activities.  It starts easily, I start taking short cuts, I start skipping critical steps in our process, I relax my standards, I get caught up in reacting.  Pretty soon, I find the discipline, focus, and process that we preach as critical to success in business has slipped away.

Sometimes slipping into “do what I say mode” is and important signal.  If we start doing it a lot, maybe it’s a sign that our processes, strategies, and approaches need to be updated.  Too often, though, it is just sloppiness, and we start seeing it in the results we produce – or don’t produce.  Inevitably, I wake up and remember, we put these processes and strategies in place because they work, because they produce results most effectively, because they reflect our priorities and values.

It’s important for leaders to recognize the impact of their example.  If we have a sales process, but our leaders don’t conduct reviews using the selling process, then why should the sales people use it?  If we talk about developing long term relationships with our customers, yet our managers only focus on what they have ordered this week, why should we care about anything but getting the order?  If our company has a value system that talks about respect for individuals, yet manager don’t coach or honestly evaluate and address performance issues, then why should we be team players?

Years ago, I worked with a very large IT company.  They were reviewing their sales strategies about software tools they were selling.  I asked the question, “Do you use these tools internally?”  There was a moment of silence, then someone responded, “These tools aren’t good enough for us.”  I then posed the question, “If they aren’t good enough for you, then why should they be good enough for your customers?”  There was a much longer period of silence.  Our people, our customers, our shareholders look at what we say and do.  Any inconsistencies create tremendous credibility problems–rightfully so.

In another situation, we were invovled in proposing sales training for a very large customer.  Call planning was an important element of the program.  In one meeting on the topic, the decision maker asked to see my call plan for this meeting.  I handed it over to him.  Without looking at it, he smiled, stood up, shook my hand and said, “You have our business.  You are the only vendor that had a call plan for meetings with us.  Your competitors clearly don’t practice what they preach, so I’m not interested in doing business with them.”

Presumably, we put strategies, processes, policies in place for a reason.  Organizations spend a lot of time talking about visions, missions, and values.  We then talk about all these things as part of motivating our people, attracting interest in the markets, and building business with our customers.  If we only talk about this stuff and don’t practice it, what are we doing?  When we start seeing these inconsistencies, we should be seeing red flags.  We need to pause and re-examine what’s happening and why.  If we want to be perceived by our customers in one way, but our behavior is different, then why should our customers listen to or trust us?

Practicing what we preach is tough.  I struggle with it all the time.  Fortunately, we’ve set ourselves up to be constantly reminded when we slip.  Whenever I hear, “You call yourselves Partners In EXCELLENCE.  If you are so excellent then why……..”  I cringe, knowing someow we’ve slipped up.  Fortunately, we have great partners and customers that remind us when we do.  It’s tough to hear but it keeps us on track in executing what we believe.

Practicing what we preach is important.  Fortunately, our actions and behaviors drown out our words.  They set an example for our people, they are a basis for trust with our people and our customers.  Let’s make sure our actions, behaviors and words are all aligned.

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3 Comments
  1. Hey, Dave. This is one post that all business enthusiasts will surely find interesting and very useful.

    In my own point of view, I think that this is a common experience for all of us whether you are a CEO of a company or a home-based small business owner.

    There comes a time during the day when we feel exhausted, slack off and let some of our standards down. I believe that as long as you are conscious about this then nothing’s wrong with you.

    Everyday is a new day to learn from our mistakes and become better.

    • Paolo, thanks for your continued comments. We all slip, being conscious of it and correcting it is important. Thanks for the comment.

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