Marine veterans explain how the 'say-do gap' could be sabotaging your work relationships

Angie morgan marinesCourtesy of Angie MorganBe a Spark. Angie Morgan pictured, serving in the Marines.

“Leadership isn’t what you expect from others, but what you demonstrate to those around you.”

That doozy of an insight comes from three US military veterans and leadership consultants, who recently published a book titled, “Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success.”

The authors — Angie Morgan, Courtney Lynch (both former Marines), and Sean Lynch, (former Air Force), of leadership development firm Lead Star — suggest that one way to set a solid example for others and earn their trust is to narrow your “say-do gap.” It’s “the space between your words and your actions.”

Having a narrow (or nonexistent) say-do gap is a hallmark of a “Spark,” the authors’ term for people who inspire others and influence outcomes, no matter their title or rank on the corporate hierarchy.

The authors write:

“What happens when you say at a meeting, ‘I’ll get this project done for you by Friday,’ and then you get back to your desk and realise that you forgot about an all-day client meeting on Thursday?

“That’s going to make it difficult to turn the project around by Friday, but a Spark wouldn’t go back and try to reset expectations; instead, if you’re a Spark, you make a Herculean effort to follow through on your commitment because your reputation is at stake.”

I cringed when I read this passage, remembering those times when I’d told my coworkers or editors that a story would be in later than planned because I’d overextended myself. Not so Spark-y.

But doesn’t every journalist ask for deadline extensions on occasion?

The authors’ answer: It doesn’t matter. They write:

“Sometimes it’s difficult to uphold high standards in a workplace where everyone else is comfortable with less-than-best expectations.

“It’s true that in some work environments people become complacent about standards — they arrive to work whenever, they show up late for meetings, and they are too accepting of excuses for poor performance.

“As a Spark, you may find it difficult to set up and model a narrow say-do gap when no one else seems to notice or care.

Which comes back to the authors’ definition of leadership. Forget that Bill in accounting hasn’t submitted a report on time in a year — you need to meet the expectations you’ve set for yourself.

Because, ultimately, if you don’t trust yourself to get your work done, you can’t expect to earn anyone else’s trust.

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