Originally published in Chief Executive
By Stephen M.R. Covey
Last summer the U.S. women’s national soccer team went into the World Cup with an argument that they should be paid as much as the men’s national team.
Their argument, which is currently being made in legal briefs and scheduled to be heard in a courtroom in May, had merit in and of itself, but what made their case more compelling, more persuasive, and more convincing, was that they were continually delivering results, both on and off the field.
With every succeeding game, the momentum of that argument picked up steam, because they were proving the particulars of it at the same time that they were making it: “We draw crowds, we get ratings, we get attention.” In addition to creating enormous public interest in their team and their sport, they were able to ultimately punctuate their argument with: “We win.”
Their credibility became stronger and stronger as they continued to perform, not just on the field, but in the marketplace and with consumers. Because of their results, their social justice argument was backed by an economic justice argument. I don’t downplay the social justice aspect, but it’s even stronger when it’s aligned with solid economic principles. Their credibility today is sky high, not simply because what they say has merit, but because of what they do.
A lot of people talk a great game. But without the results, it’s meaningless. If you want to be credible, it’s far better to be short on talk and long on delivery. Results convert the cynic. Results give you a platform.
“When the tide goes out, you see who’s swimming naked.”
Warren Buffet’s famous quip has never been more relevant. At the moment, there’s more capital available than great businesses. In fact, the percentage of IPOs for unprofitable companies is the highest since 2000.
In a healthy market, people and organizations can temporarily get by on the proverbial good looks and charm, when they may or may not have built a truly great business.
It might feel like the traditional attributes are no longer being rewarded. Many people are wondering if the world has changed and the fundamentals of good business are no longer valid.
But the importance of credibility and trust will always be critical. In the long run, especially when markets change or industries are disrupted, what’s more sustainable is a solid business and leaders with a track record of performance.
If you want to build sustainable credibility fast, results are the key. Why? Because people predict future performance based upon what they’ve seen—start here:
• Don’t confuse activities for results. If you’re trying to build your credibility through results, make sure you don’t fall into the activity trap—confusing busyness for performance. Too often we can point to the tasks we’ve done, but not the value we’ve created. Busyness is a counterfeit form of productivity.
• Focus on both the “what” and the “how.” Some leaders get results in a way that destroys trust like a chainsaw, slashing and burning half the company. And yes, profits may go up in the short term, but they come at the expense of the culture. How you do what you do matters, and your ability to get results in the future depends on it.
My definition of leadership is getting results in a way that inspires trust. Leadership is not a popularity contest; it’s a credibility contest. Get results today in a way that enables you to get results tomorrow.
• Communicate results at every step of the process. It’s counterintuitive, but many people who actually perform well fail to communicate those great results. When you take on an initiative, a team, or an organization, clarify expectations for your stakeholders upfront. Agree on the results and a process for accountability. Then communicate what you did—or didn’t do. This does require transparency and vulnerability, but it’s extraordinary how it will also build trust, and give you permission to make adjustments along the way where needed.
I was the CEO of the company when we acquired a business, and the owner came to work for us. He later told me, “I want you to know that since you’ve acquired us, we’ve produced $85 million of revenue and $25 million of EBITDA, which is dramatically more than what you paid.” Amazingly he was one of the only leaders to ever circle back with that kind of information. He was demonstrating results, and my confidence in him went up dramatically—especially compared to those who never took the time to communicate the value they’d delivered.
Performance opens up options. It inspires trust, it gives you flexibility, it gives you choices. The quickest way to lose credibility tends to be on the character side, through violations of integrity. But the quickest way to earn it is to create value, deliver results, and perform.
No matter who’s playing on the field, that’s one part of the game that will never change.
Stephen M.R. Covey is the co-founder and Global Practice Leader of FranklinCovey’s Trust Practice, and the author of the book The Speed of Trust.