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Management Rule No. 1: Show Don't Tell

A truly great boss is both a touchstone and a role model.
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Over the years, I've skimmed hundreds of corporate "mission statements."

They usually consist of vague business jargon that is meant to inspire but which really don't mean much, like "We offer superlative customer service."

In most companies, if you privately ask an average employee what he or she thinks of the corporate mission statement, you'll probably get either a blank stare or a muffled snigger. 

That's because mission statements tell but don't show.

The same thing is true everywhere in every organization. Regardless of how managers tell employees to behave, they'll actually do whatever management shows them is the most advantageous way to behave.

If a boss tells employees that hard work will be rewarded but then gives the biggest raises and the best perks to butt-kissing toadies, employees will either leave or hone their butt-kissing skills.

Similarly, bosses who spend the majority of their time playing corporate politics will inevitably end up with a team of employees willing to sacrifice real achievement in order to look good.

Bosses who tell but don't show are like parents who think their kids will behave when told "do as I say, not as I do." 

In other words, being a great boss means being both a touchstone and a role model.  It's always what you show that really matters.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Sep 4, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James was recently named a "Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Master" by Forbes, and his blog has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. His writing has appeared in publications as diverse as Wired, Brandweek, and Men's Health, and he is the author of numerous books, including The Tao of Programming, Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite, and, most recently, Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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