10/10/2014 03:57 pm ET Updated Dec 10, 2014

Do What You Say You Are Going to Do

Actions obviously not only speak louder than words, they also can make words irrelevant. Capital is soon eroded if promises are not met; capital grows as commitments are kept. Every time you say what you do not mean, or you fail to do what you say you will, your stature in the eyes of your constituents is diminished.

As someone who was not "of the cloth," who did not become a president after rising through the academic ranks, I found -- at both my former colleges -- I was questioned (mightily) from the very beginning. In fact, after having to make some tough budgetary decisions early on in a presidency, I knew -- both because of those decisions and because I was not the faculty choice for the position -- I would pay a heavy price at my first commencement. I was not wrong.

I predicted to my dean of students I would be attacked by the student speaker (who, ironically, was the first student on campus whom I had helped). My dean, having seen the written version of the speech, disagreed. Unfortunately, I was right (the student did not give the speech he had shown the dean), and the speaker proceeded to tell the thousands in the audience the board had made a mistake in selecting the president the previous year.

Jokingly, I leaned over to my board chair and asked if I should deck the speaker then or later. However, despite the pain of the moment, I knew this incident would quickly pass -- if I continued doing what I said I would. It did pass because, over the years, I did exactly what I told the college community I was going to do.

Of course, doing what you say you are going to do does not mean you cannot change course. I often did. Whenever I felt it necessary to take a different approach, though, I always told the groups involved both that I was doing so and why I felt I had to change positions.

I do not like to characterize what others thought of me or my administrations. I know, however, for better or worse, each constituency heard a consistent message and knew that we -- those of us in the administration -- would do what I said we would do. We did, and, in the end, I think that made a world of difference.

Words matter, and they matter a great deal. Unless you act in accord with those words, though, you will quickly find your position has been grievously weakened.