How leaders can underpromise and overdeliver

“Say a little and do a lot.”

“Let your actions speak for themselves.”

“Show me. Don’t tell me.”

The maxims about hard work can go on for days. It’s easy to copy/paste one of the timeless expressions on a motivational poster or catchy meme.

But what does “Say a little a do a lot” mean in the context of leading your team? What does work ethic look like in real life?

On my blog, we’re all about the practical side of leadership and the nitty gritty moments when you need to, in fact, “let your actions speak for themselves.”

Less theory, more doing.

Here are three examples.

1. You wrap up a staff discussion about how to sell a new product. You can tell the team still has a rough idea about the product and the best ways to offer the item to new and existing customers.

That night, you spend an hour and draft a sales manual for the new product. You share best practices for email/phone engagements and a follow-up process with interested buyers.

The next day, you email the team the finished sales manual as a shared document. You didn’t make a big deal that you were “going to stay up all night and work on the manual.” In fact, you didn’t tell anyone at all.

No, you went home, sat at the computer and knocked it out.

Then, when the team sees the manual in the morning, it comes as a welcomed surprise.

You saw a need. You worked hard to meet the need. Nothing more to it.

In other words, “Say a little a do a lot.”

2. You want to give your development staff a leg up during next year’s fundraising push.

You look across your network and find an outside expert on capital campaigns and fundraising drives. You coordinate for the person to lead a half-day workshop for you and your development team.

You’re the leader so the decision to coordinate the workshop rests in your hands. You don’t delegate out the decision or talk about bringing in an expert — and then never follow through on the idea.

No. You do research, make phone calls, schedule the workshop and make it all happen.

In other words, you “let your actions speak for themselves.”

3. You have a policy that all nine employees can attend one professional development conference or event per year on the company’s dime.

You realize such an offer, while generous, can be overwhelming to staff members who may not be familiar with the conference circuit.

That’s when you step into action. Without broadcasting your plans, you spend an afternoon and research 2-3 appropriate conferences for each employee.

You then send an email to every employee, share the conference options and ask people to choose one (or to share another conference they found on their own).

Did employees ask you to research the conferences? No. Is it helpful that you put in the time anyway? Yes.

You didn’t need to make a big pronouncement like, “No calls on Tuesday afternoon. I will spend the time researching conferences for everyone.”

No. You sat down and did the work. Plain and simple. And now your employees can make plans to attend conferences that will sharpen their skills and, ideally, boost your bottom line.

In other words, “Show me. Don’t tell me.”

Leadership is a collection of all the little moments where you decide to make stuff happen, set new ideas in motion and put your employees in a position to be successful.

Anyone can make a motivational poster.

But it takes a special person to lead.

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