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In a world full of acronyms, DWYSYWD may be the most important one you need to know, especially if you are a leader. This acronym represents the #1 admired trait for a leader according to decades of research done by Jim Kouzes and Jim Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge. It also beautifully mirrors the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.

Curious? Let’s decipher this code for leadership and personal success.

The Code for Success

The code for deciphering DWYSYWD is simple and straightforward: Do What You Say You Will Do. Modeling it is a lot harder.

Think back over last month and make a list of all the times when someone didn’t do what they told you they would do… whether it’s something as small as returning a phone call or as harmful as promising you something they never intended to provide. More importantly, think about the promises you made to others. No matter how big or small, our actions, more so than our words, are either building our credibility or diminishing it. Listen to Emerson. But don’t take his word for it—just ask Kouzes and Posner.

Survey Says…

For over 30 years, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have continuously gathered and analyzed data based on survey questionnaires that rank order a list of the most important leadership characteristics. Their current database includes over 1.3 million respondents from 85 cultures around the globe, and the same issue surfaces every time as the top expectation for leaders… trust/reliability. When responders were questioned further, it translated to DWYSYWD. Here’s why it keeps its first place position.

The Gift of Admiration and Discretionary Effort

Leaders can accomplish goals through micromanaging, intimidation, and fear, but they won’t be respected or admired. Employees will comply, but they will never give leaders the gift of discretionary effort. Here are a few things we know about leaders who are genuinely admired:

  • We will walk through walls for people we respect and admire. Not only do we work harder, we also give them the gift of our ideas and commitment.
  • Leaders we admire not only share the credit, they intentionally shift the spotlight to others for recognition. (Emerson was definitely on to something because here is where actions triumph words. If the words are not authentic, the actions will contradict the words.) Listen to Emerson.
  • Successful leaders serve others first. They focus removing obstacles for employees as they respond to their needs and interests.
  • Outstanding leaders are engaged and personal. They build credibility one action at a time on a person-to-person level with every relationship.

While the Kouzes and Posner surveys are directed toward business, it’s safe to say these same attributes prevail in any relationship.

Not Just for Leaders

While DWYSYWD is critical to leadership credibility, it also applies to everyone, regardless of role or position. It’s really about building your own personal credibility with every relationship including family, children, and friends. We’re quick to break promises to those who are closest to us by thinking “They will understand.” Moreover, don’t forget your brand’s credibility because DWYSYWD lies at the core of most customer service issues, whether it was a late delivery, a cancelled flight or a product that didn’t perform as sold.

The power of what we “say” sets expectations that build credibility or damage it unless our actions contradict it. Listen to Emerson.

What If You Can’t DWYSYWD?

Things are always changing, and there are times when we simply can’t DWYSYWD. Perhaps the failure to deliver on what you said is not within your control, or you were misinformed, or someone didn’t keep their word to you. Nevertheless, it remains your responsibility. The proper response is be honest and explain why. All people… employees, customers, mothers, fathers, and most assuredly people in leadership roles MUST honor this principle. It is simple and so vital, but not always easy. And if you can’t remember what DWYSYWD means, just Listen to Emerson. 

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