Leadership Thought #469 – Beware of People Who Have Style But Lack Substance

April 24, 2014

Style vs. Substance

Beware of people who have style but lack substance…

In life we often come across overly charming people, who always know what to say and how to say it.  I am always a bit skeptical when an individual has too much polish.  We all know the type, those candidates who interview extremely well but disappoint later.  In my line of work, I have encountered many people who are masters at jargon and can talk a good game but have little substance behind their words.  In business it is far too easy to sound like you know what you are talking about when you don’t have a clue.  If there are too many buzzwords coming out of someone’s mouth without anything definitive being said, it is a major red flag for me.  You also need to hear someone say every so often, “I don’t know?” or “let me think about that” before just responding.”  Experts tend to ask good questions and think before responding or committing to something.  They never act like they have all the answers because they are smart enough to know they don’t.

Confidence based on accomplishment is a good thing if it is grounded in facts.  You need to stick around somewhere for a period of time if you expect to have any lasting impact.   It’s amazing the stories people can tell you about what they have done when they’ve only lasted in a particular position for a brief period.  I am always wondering when they are espousing their litany of their impressive professional achievements that if they were so great, why their former employers didn’t make more of an effort to keep them.  In addition, why is there usually an extensive list of other employers who showed a similar lack of enthusiasm?

You will notice with people of this make-up that once you hire them as an employee or consultant it won’t be long before the excuses start flowing.  Missed deadlines or less than stellar work will begin to emerge as an issue.  They will tell you in detail all the reasons why they can’t be successful.  It is never their fault.  They become experts at “passing the buck” or hiding behind the wall of unrealistic expectations and miscommunication.  You will buy into their rhetoric for a while but eventually your patience will wear thin, and they will become someone else’s problem.  Sadly, many of them manage to fail forward and make even more money and obtain higher positions based on the fabricated stories they spin regarding their past results.  It is a vicious cycle….

People who are good at what they do tend to focus on that.  They avoid unnecessary distractions and drama.  They don’t need to pump themselves up in front of others because their results speak for themselves.  They do what they say they are going to do when they say they are going to do it.  If they perceive roadblocks in their path to progress, they either deal with them directly or work around them.  You are rarely disappointed by their efforts.  In fact, they are usually harder on themselves than you would ever be at them when things don’t go as planned.  They don’t “perform” in meetings but instead get easily frustrated by others wasting their time with excessive discussions.

Beware of people who have style but lack substance.  Don’t get fooled by what they say or how they act in professional settings.  Instead, pay close attention to what they do when no one is watching and how they perform when accountability for something rests clearly on their shoulders.