Houston says that a couple of years into running the company, he was getting annoyed that everyone was showing up to work at noon. So he scheduled a companywide meeting to address the problem.
The next day, Houston had trouble finding a cab, and ended up being two minutes late to the meeting. At the time, he didn't think much of it.
After the meeting, a team member pulled Houston aside.
"I can't believe what you just did," said the colleague disappointedly. Initially, Houston didn't get the problem. "It was just two minutes," he thought to himself.
He goes on to relate:
But what I realized as he was talking was, oh, he's not upset that I'm two minutes late. He's saying I'm a hypocrite, the rules don't apply to me, I don't respect the team. This is what he was hearing or feeling. And it had nothing to do with the cab ride.
Houston then came to a realization.
"We can write down all the pretty words about our culture and our values that we want," he said. "But people pay a thousand times more attention to what you do as a leader."
So many today focus on education, position, or even previous accomplishments when trying to identify what effective leadership looks like.
But true respect is not given. It's earned.
Look, people naturally want to do good work. Most of the time, they simply need someone to show them the way.
To illustrate, let's say someone stops you on the street to ask for directions. You could give the person a step-by-step route to follow, or you might draw a map, complete with street names and landmarks.
But you could also say:
"That's not too far out of my way. Just follow me, and I'll take you there."
Which method do you think is the most effective?
Value statements and culture decks may be in vogue, but they're useless without leaders who practice what they preach. If you truly want to inspire, forget about telling your people what they should do.
Instead, focus on showing them where they need to go.
I bet they'll be willing to follow.