Do Your Actions Support Your Values?

I dropped my daughter off at elementary school the other morning and had to do a double-take on a mother who was just coming out of the school.  What made me look twice was her outfit.

She wore a very fitted designer t-shirt (huge logo on the front.)  That wasn’t so bad…except that the length of her shirt exposed her entire mid-section.  Combined with her low-rise jeans, she was exposing quite a bit of skin…to drop her children off at school.

I wondered immediately, what message is she trying to send?  Is it about designer fashion?  Fitness or weight?  Wanting to be desired or praised by others?

I thought about her children, and I wondered if she thought of them when she got dressed.

I bet she doesn’t want them to get their confidence from wearing certain labels or from having a specific appearance, I thought.  As a mother, I have to believe she wants more for them.  I have to believe she wants them to be authentic and to be liked and valued for who they are; not what they look like or wear.

But weren’t her actions speaking louder? And weren’t they sending a conflicting message?  How will her children understand what’s truly important?

Does this ever happen to you?  Are your behaviors in alignment with your values?

Whether we are leaders in our homes or leaders in an organizational setting, we have to model behavior that is consistent with our values.

People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do.  ~Lewis Cass

Actions do, in fact, speak louder than words.  People see what you do, and if it doesn’t align with what you’ve said, then you’ve immediately lost their trust, their admiration, and their willingness to follow.  And worst yet, your words have lost their meaning and value.

What effect would that have on your company?  Your team?  Your family?

As we lead, we must consider our priorities, beliefs and values.  They cannot be swept under the rug.  They must be lived.

What values does your company profess?  Putting clients first?  Treating fellow employees with respect?  Being thrifty with spending?

What values do you uphold as a family?  Kindness to others?  Integrity?  Always doing what’s right?

Take a few moments and think about your actions over the last week.  Are you living out what you claim to hold important?  It’s a tough question we should all challenge ourselves with.  We are, after all, human.  We can, so often, get distracted or derailed.  What’s important, though, is that we recognize it, and then we commit to making the necessary changes to bring us back to the best of who we are.

Support what you say.  Model your values.  Let your actions do the speaking, because they’re what people hear anyway.

Erin Schreyer is President of Sagestone Partners and is a Certified Coach, Trainer and Speaker.  Erin is passionate about building into people and bringing out their leadership qualities to help them excel in all areas of life.

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Latest Comments

Mark Oakes   |   26 September 2011   |   Reply

Well done, Erin!!

We’re always on stage, irrespective the setting. We never know who is watching, learning and modeling our behavior. Leaders in all walks of life from the school yard to the boardroom recognize this and behave accordingly.

All my best


Erin Schreyer   |   26 September 2011   |   Reply

Thanks, Mark! I appreciate you contributing to the conversation!! “Stage” is a perfect word. There’s just no escaping it, especially these days!!

It makes it that much more important to be sure we have taken the time to clearly identify what values are really important to us…and then let them be evident in every area of our personal and professional lives.

You are an excellent example of this, Mark. Your transparency and consistency are noticeable and admirable!


Rick Veenstra   |   28 September 2011   |  

Hi Erin, Mark,

“We’re always on stage, irrespective the setting.” How very true. But how many times we fail by make this stage into a theatre, or even make a theatre on stage. People, especially children, will intuitively know when we do that and actually make a fool of ourselves. Then they will surely believe what we do, but not exactly what we’d like them to believe…

You’re spot-on when you write that we must live our priorities, beliefs and values. We have to live them, convinced, convincingly, congruent. Personal integrity is only possible when we are fully aligned to our values, when they shine through in everything we do even when we don’t consider them consciously.

But having said that, I must admit that I am very experienced in failing miserably. Still, when I look at my kinds it seems that in being a father and role model I can’t have been a total failure after all ;-)

Erin Schreyer   |   28 September 2011   |  

Rick, I think we all fail from time to time. We’re human. That’s ok.

The point I was hoping to get across was that people are always watching, and although always “on stage,” we should be authentic; not acting. Being consistent with our values shows our character (and I don’t mean a stage character!) Even when we fail, an honest admission, apology and a firm commitment to try again are the only things it takes to remain true to those values.

Trust me, I mess up all the time….but especially, when my kids can see it, I use those as “teaching moments” and I always ask for their forgiveness. They learn that perfection is not the goal, and these times reinforce our values too!

Bridget Haymond   |   26 September 2011   |   Reply

It goes back to the old saying that more is caught than is taught. Our children are always watching us and the seemingly “little” things really do matter. When our actions don’t line up with our words, our children see us hypocrites and it is a huge disappointment for them. Nothing convicts me of the need to be congruent in this regard more than the knowledge that I’m influencing the next generation through what my children see in me, and I take that seriously.

Great post Erin!

Erin Schreyer   |   26 September 2011   |   Reply

Bridget, thanks for commenting and adding such great value! I had forgotten about that saying, but it sure holds true!!

I so appreciate your desire to positively influence the next generation! You’re a wonderful leader and mother and a great example for many!!

Marty Coleman, The Napkin Dad   |   05 October 2011   |   Reply

First off, I agree with your overall premiss that one needs to be consistent about words and actions being in concert. I think it’s very evident that kids watch actions more than words, as do employees, friends, etc.

But another set of questions might be asked about your example and they are, ‘What are the underlying assumptions you made about how much skin is appropriate to show’ and ‘What does that say about your assumptions, judgments and your cultural prejudices?’

Here is the key for me – it’s when you wrote,
“I bet she doesn’t want them to get their confidence from wearing certain labels or from having a specific appearance, I thought. As a mother, I have to believe she wants more for them. I have to believe she wants them to be authentic and to be liked and valued for who they are; not what they look like or wear.”

I think if truth be told that is what you expect a mother to believe, perhaps because that is what you believe. But what if that particular mother doesn’t follow that? What if she truly believes that appearances matter. That how you look and how attractive you are is what give you your value and worth in life? Maybe she believes that what you wear and like IS who you are. Maybe she is teaching with words AND acting exactly how she thinks her children should think and act. If that is the case then she isn’t an example of the disconnect between the two, she is an example of someone whose behavior you disapprove of for cultural reasons.

So, let’s turn the table for a moment. Let’s be that woman with the bare midriff. If she could see your thoughts the same way you could see her midriff would she be able to say,

“I bet she doesn’t want them to get their confidence from looking down on others because they dress differently than she does, I thought. As a mother, I have to believe she wants more for them. I have to believe she wants them to be non-judgmental and like people authentically for who they are, not what they look like or wear.”

What do you think of these ideas?

Erin Schreyer   |   05 October 2011   |   Reply

Thanks for your comments, Marty. It’s an interesting challenge you pose.

I hope that mothers would want to encourage their children to value themselves and others for who they are. The point being, clothes and appearance are not who you are. They’re simply not.

Kids are impressionable, and it’s critical for parents to build solid values and confidence into them during these foundational years. Basing your values and confidence on fashion or appearance is not solid, sustainable or even real. These are simply embellishments.

I would never encourage anyone to “look down on” someone else because they dressed differently than me. Her actions do make me wonder, though…What “good” do you think this mother was trying to demonstrate to her elementary school children?

Marty Coleman, The Napkin Dad   |   05 October 2011   |  

Well, let’s make an assumption for argument’s sake. When she first had her kids she was 250 lbs. She was in a disastrously abusive relationship with a man who put her down all the time. He made fun of her attempts at glamour or attractiveness and eventually left her for another woman. She dug down deep and decided she would become whoever she wanted to become. She would show her children that she had the will, the power and the ability to transform herself into a strong woman. That included transforming her body, which she did. She is still reveling in her freedom to dress as she pleases. She enjoys her new body, sees nothing wrong with showing off parts of it because she does it out of pride in herself, and she wants to make sure her children learn that they can be and do anything they set their minds to. Maybe she also transformed her mind to be curious, fun, positive and happy. If that was the story she told you what would you think about her example to her kids at that point?

Erin Schreyer   |   05 October 2011   |  

Marty, my stance would not change, because I would listen and then encourage her to know that true strength doesn’t come from such superficial things. I’m all about empowering and encouraging strong women, but the real “power” comes only when a person can believe fully in themselves, not just in their appearance. I would hope to help her see that her husband leaving wasn’t her fault, no matter what she looked like. Real beauty comes from the inside, not from our external appearances.

I would also lovingly caution her from taking too much pride. It’s great to be proud of her accomplishment. That’s a great feat, worthy of celebration…but to be prideful in her appearance to the extent that she feels she needs to “show off” to feel better about herself…well, I think that just speaks to a deeper issue. I would encourage her to find ways to feel good about herself…ways that could last through the test of time. External beauty will always fade with time…what will happen to her self-confidence then? She’s not doing herself the best favor by rooting her self-esteem in this.

andyitguy   |   05 October 2011   |   Reply

I think that most people don’t think enough about the message that they are sending to others. Whether it be how you dress, what you do vs. what you say, telling your kids that they shouldn’t drink while you are holding a drink in your hand (even though age may make it illegal for them), etc… People simply “wander” through life doing what makes them feel good. They don’t think about how what they are doing will impact them, their kids, grandkids, etc… Not to mention how they will affect others outside of their own family.

We’re taught (or brainwashed) to accept most everything that others want to do and if we don’t then we are considered narrow minded, haters, bigots and such. Yet we are expected to allow our kids to be subjected to seeing this mom dress like this and just deal with it. Why should my children have to see this and accept it at a school or any other public place? it would be one thing if we were at a pool or the beach. We accept too much in society today. A few weeks ago I was driving home from a Reds game w/ my 10 year old nephew. We were at a light near a bar and all of a sudden he say’s “That girl is showing her….”. We accept that and even encourage it with things such as Girls Gone Wild and making it socially acceptable for people to dress as they please in public. Some may consider it a far stretch but history tells us a different story. Things start small and grow from there.

Erin Schreyer   |   05 October 2011   |   Reply

Andy, you make some great points!! One of the reasons I wrote this article is because I kept thinking “this is elementary school…”

Is there even an “inappropriate” in today’s society? Girls Gone Wild, Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of …. what are they teaching us is OK, acceptable, even admirable? I’m afraid we’re on a very slippery slope, and it will take great leaders – lots of them – willing to take a stand.

Thanks for your comments, Andy!

Anthony Vodola (@hrVirtue)   |   05 October 2011   |   Reply

Hi Erin,

A great read! I’m someone who highly values personal integrity–that is, congruence of values, speech, and behavior. My undergrad research was on Authentic Leadership and theories of Ethical Leadership. I think in many ways both are connected.

I believe in leading by example. If you think others should adhere to a moral system, then you ought to adhere to it yourself. People follow leaders, not rhetoricians. Children (and adults, too) learn vicariously. They can learn what is and isn’t acceptable just by observing how others act. This is powerful and thus dangerous. This means we should consider the responsibility of our actions.

To touch on Marty’s points, I think the other mother may not have been “intending” to send any messages at all. In fact, she may not have considered the effect of her clothes on her child. While most mothers would pay lip service to wanting their children valued for “who they are,” many mothers may not understand how this translates from an ideal into reality.

Some people think appearances are important and instill this value in their children (e.g., child beauty competitions). To say that this is wrong or should be discouraged is a matter of opinion–one that I personally hold, but is not believed by all. Bottom line is, people have their own values, and they are entitled to this right.

Again, great article! I’m passionate about these topics. Thanks for sharing!

Asp. Kareen D. Cordero   |   06 January 2013   |   Reply

thanks.. this helped me in preparing for my class in Values Education..

Erin Schreyer   |   07 January 2013   |   Reply

So glad that could be helpful to you, Kareen!