Do you ever wonder what makes some organizations responsive – prone to leap into action like a a sports car when you press the accelerator – while others sputter and stall like my college car? (That car was a brown 1981 Plymouth Horizon Miser in case you were wondering. It was a thing of beauty until it had an unfortunate meeting with a white stretch limo.)

Which organization are you creating?

I’m sure many things affect your organization’s get-up-and-go, but I can almost guarantee one of them: the follow-through credibility of the leadership team.

Leaders are in the business of making things happen.  On a regular basis, most leadership teams come out with new ideas and new strategies.  If they get a collective yawn from their teams about these strategies, their message may not be bad.  Maybe they have just failed to earn the credibility to get people acting on the idea.

Here’s an example: Eight times a year, the Fed’s Federal Open Market Committee meets to discuss adjustments to the U.S. monetary policy.  Business leaders and investors watch the meetings closely for any indication about interest rate adjustments or, more recently, other more creative policy tools.  As soon as those decisions are leaked or announced, the market generally responds.

Why? Why doesn’t the market yawn? Because the Fed generally does what it says it’s going to do.  It has a nearly-100 year history of announcing something and actually following through.  Just imagine if Ben Bernanke said he was going to raise interest rates and six weeks later, when asked, said,”I didn’t get around to that.  I was too busy.”  Talk about a reaction!

Yet we often do exactly that as leaders.  When we make bold pronouncements and fail to follow through visibly and completely, our staff, partners, and customers learn to treat each and every pronouncement with skepticism. And skepticism eventually turns to yawns.  (P.S. The same happens if your predecessor created this pattern. No, it’s not fair that you’re stuck with that.  But as my dad always said, “Life isn’t fair.”)

Instead, sports car organizations intentionally only make pronouncements and promises that they can back up.  They create an environment where staff, partners, and customers act quickly because they’ve seen consistent follow-through. What looks like heroic initiative is simply rational behavior in the face of a leader’s certain action.

How sporty is your organization?