Lessons Learned #23: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Watching the recent Republican Party debate and the events immediately afterward confirmed the validity of something that I learned long ago, which I adopted as a guiding principle for my life; it can take you a lifetime to build a good reputation, but only a moment to ruin it.

Yes, as you’ve probably guessed, I’m referring to the responses and subsequent remarks made by Donald Trump.  Regardless of your political viewpoint, I think you will agree with me that rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to convince potential voters of the seriousness of his candidacy by advancing his ideas, policies, and vision, Mr. Trump managed to confirm the worst fears of those who may have wanted to support him.

As I watched the debate with my 24 year old step son, I was able to see clearly how his enthusiasm for the “plain speaking, politically incorrect, successful businessman” candidate deteriorated each time Mr. Trump failed to address the questions posed to him, choosing to repeat his “cliche catch phrases” rather than to provide the audience with information or substance, as the majority of his opponents attempted to do.  I saw how my step son’s respect for the candidate waned as Mr. Trump offered trite, flip, rude responses that failed to match what he had expected from a successful businessman.  The contrast with the rest of the candidates created by his responses (or lack thereof) grew as the debate progressed.  The transformation in my step son’s opinion of Mr. Trump was dramatic; from enthusiastic, potential supporter, to critical disappointment for someone he had esteemed only a couple of hours before!  Of course, as additional comments from Mr. Trump were revealed over the 24 hours after the debate, his opinion of him became quite negative.

That Mr. Trump was able to engineer the collapse of potential support from a young man within such a short span of time is proof of the fact that it can take only a moment to ruin a reputation built over a long time.

It’s not hard to understand this scenario.  If you consider and carefully observe the behavior of popular culture in America, you would conclude that character can be created or “purchased” simply through repetitive lip service, slogans, catch phrases, or well-crafted mission statements.  In other words, if you want to have others believe that your character (being a reflection of your core values) is sound or lofty, you need only say certain “programmed” phrases, or speak in specific ways often enough to “prove” it.  The belief being, that by saying those things, you will be judged by others to possess that character which you desire.

It is not uncommon for one to see business leaders profess to their customers that their company (and employees) possess the loftiest, most honorable core values like honesty, competitive pricing, commitment to quality, and reliability in all their dealings.  However, quite often, after you enter into a first-hand relationship with them, your experience is radically different.  Unfortunately, their actions don’t seem to match their rhetoric!

While it is true that your words may reveal your character over time, that only holds true if they are not contradicted by your actions.  You see, personal character (and by extension, the character of your business), is proven daily by your actions, and not simply by your words.  Remember, after all your words are heard, it is your actions that will speak and be heard much louder than your words.

“Character is much easier kept than recovered.”Thomas Paine

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