Show Don’t Tell

I visited a very dear person in my life this weekend. While travelling, I was struck by how often we are told to do (or not do) something but are rarely shown. Often the very people who tell us what to do, fail to follow the instructions they are giving everyone else. Telling people what to do is not nearly as effective as showing them. Telling them to do one thing while you do another is a complete waste of time.

Sally lives in Zeeland, Michigan, a very close-knit Dutch community that over the years has become as diverse as the rest of the world. Sally and her late husband, Bill, both worked for the same company for their entire careers. In fact, Sally still does. Sally loves carousel horses, her community, and her family.  She and Bill raised four children and now have 15 grandchildren and 5 greatgrandchildren, all of whom live and work in and around Zeeland. Spending a day in her home with her family is a study in successful leadership.

Sally is the legacy ambassador and corporate historian/storyteller for her company. Over more than five decades, Sally has worked alongside and served internationally known designers, corporate leaders and, most importantly, her family and her community. I had the immense privilege of meeting Sally when I visited her company and she greeted and hosted me and my team. I knew immediately that Sally was a person I wanted to do life with (even though we live several states apart), and we have kept in touch and visited ever since.

On this trip, I got to spend time with her three sons and her son-in-law. Each of them serves their family and their community in substantial ways. From following in their father Bill’s footsteps in the local fire and rescue team, to planting a groundbreaking church in a manufacturing facility, to travelling the world sharing the message of hope in Christ through feats of strength, Sally’s children give generously and consistently to the community.

We interviewed Sally for the Word From The Herd podcast, and she mesmerized us with story after story of her experiences. Each story was about what she had learned and how she had been impacted by the things she saw leaders do—the way they worked, how they treated others, the things that were important to them. She studied these leaders and learned from them, then she applied what she learned to her life and her family.

It worked.

Sally didn’t tell her children and grandchildren what to do; she showed them. She lived out the values of her life in bold and visible ways. That her values were visible is not the good part, because that is true about everyone. Everyone has values. Every company is a values-driven company. The important question is, “What are your values?”

The world is full of organizations and people who claim to have lofty values but prove otherwise every day. If you say you value people yet treat them with disrespect and sacrifice them for profits, then you really value money more than people. If you tell your children to follow the rules and obey the laws, then speed or fudge on your taxes, you really value your comfort more than community. If you say everyone is intrinsically and equally valuable yet you use your position and your privilege to take rather than to give, you really value yourself more than others.

Sally and Bill spent their lives showing people they were valued and loved. They spent their time and money and influence serving others and making a difference wherever they were. I’m sure they told their children many things, but the most important thing they learned was not what they were told. It was what they saw. Everyday. Consistently and constantly.

As leaders we have a responsibility to communicate. We do have to tell people what we expect of them, what their responsibilities are, what they can expect of us. We do need to tell our team what our values are and how it looks when those values are lived out. But that is just a small part. The most significant thing we do as leaders is to show our team what our values look like. It is by our example that those we serve will truly understand and adopt the values that create our culture.

It is not exceptional that Sally lived out her values; everyone does. It is exceptional that, as much as anyone I have ever known, Sally has the core values of love and care for others demonstrated by service and respect. These are not clothes she puts on for display; they are the skin she lives in. In turn, her whole family grew to have these same values and to display them in their own unique ways.

We often talk about legacy at Kimray. What greater legacy could we have than to show those coming after us what a community built on the values of intrinsic and equal value, love and respect, and service to others looks like? I was instantly drawn to Sally and her family. I want to do life with people like her. She built her community by showing, not telling. Let’s continue to build our community the same way. Show people you care in tangible ways, and you won’t need to tell them. She may live states away and work for a different company, but Sally shows us The Kimray Way.