I recently attended a presentation by a CEO of a well-know Orlando based restaurant. He spoke at length about his professional journey from insurance salesman to front line cook to CEO of a well known restaurant chain. He shared the message that people were the differentiator in his success at his former organization. He stressed how food is largely not the differentiator in restaurants. Rather, customers return and pay for the overall dining experience where the service, ambiance, friendliness, professionalism and charm of the restaurant. He stressed how most restaurateurs can learn how to prepare food in specific manners, but few can learn how to build a culture which brings people back time and time again.He stressed the importance of having consistent messaging cascaded down through all levels of the organization so everyone used the same vernacular and spoke the same language.
He then moved his message to how he has taken the lessons he learned in his previous career lives to revive a struggling brand. He talked about building a strategic mission, common values, shared accountability to a common purpose and living the messages he was sending. Our speaker told us that after seven months on the job, he and his leadership team have begun to hear the same values, language and purpose they have been repeating for seven months to come back to them from their field leadership team. For over half an hour he espoused his message that any culture, good or bad, constructive or destructive, is built around common messaging, having a specific, consistently communicated message to individuals who mirror the qualities and values lived by the organization. It was a riveting and powerful presentation. When our speaker was finished, he received a rousing ovation.
Then he was asked a follow-up question. He was asked “what are your organization’s core values and mission?” The CEO, who had just spent over thirty minutes describing how important it is to match an organization’s actions to its language, who spoke so passionately about setting a specific mission and defined values, could not repeat his organization’s mission or values. He didn’t have a firm grasp on the very language he talked so passionately about ensuring was communicated through all levels of his company. He stammered about for what seemed like an eternity, never finding the words for his organization’s mission and having to ask for help from a member of his leadership team to articulate his company’s three core values. In the thirty seconds he searched for the words to describe his organization, he lost all the credibility he had built over the previous thirty minutes.
Every leader can learn from our friend’s blunder. As leaders, individuals look to us for guidance as to how to act, what to say, and how to perform their jobs. They look for consistency between what we say and what we do. They demand we “walk our talk”. When we are asked to represent our organization, we need to grab the opportunity to cement our message by showing we believe and live the values we demand from our people. When we fail to provide this consistency, our credibility is eroded and, if it happens repeatedly, eventually destroyed. Long gone are the days when employees or clients were willing to let leaders say one thing and do another. If you are going to say you have core values and a strategic mission, you had better be able to recite it at a moment’s notice. When you don’t, your people, your primary audience, begin to ask themselves “how important is this message anyway?”
Consider your own situation. Have you ever had an opportunity to represent your organization, either to an external group or to the very organization you lead, and failed to articulate a message consistent with your organizational values? What impact did this failure have on your credibility? What impact did it have on your team, your customers and your reputation? As leaders, we are always “on stage”. People are always looking to us for direction and to set the example. Before you speak, make sure what you say is what you believe, that it represents who you are and who your organization is, and that you can describe in great detail the specifics behind your message. If you don’t, the words you speak will lead to cynicism over credibility, reluctance over engagement, and stagnation over action. As a leader, you are the face of your brand. Take every opportunity to lead your brand forward by representing your brand in the best possible light.