How you behave is important. It sets the tone for how others perceive you—what they expect, whether they can depend on you, whether they can see you filling a certain role (be it as an employee, significant other, parent, teacher, or some other position of responsibility).

How you behave supersedes everything else about you. It’s more important than what you say, how you look, even what you’re thinking inside. How you behave is the sum of actions you take—in public, in private, when you’re under pressure, or when things are going well—and actions speak louder than words. MUCH louder.

If you say you’ll do one thing, but you actually do something different, how do you think that makes others around you feel? What does it do to their trust levels, or their comfort being around you, or depending on you to fill a certain role?

What we do leaves the longest-lasting impressions, while what we say is often dust in the wind shortly after we say it.

We’ve all had bosses who have said one thing (“Work hard and you’ll get far,” for example) only to let us down as role models when we see them stroll into the office late, leave early, take extended lunches, and/or generally fail to impress with solid work ethics. We’ve all also had bosses who have been just the opposite—bosses who thought nothing of rolling up their sleeves with their teams, arriving early or staying late until the job got done. What kind of impression did that make? What kind of tone did it set for your performance, for the performance of everyone around you? Were you inspired to do well, to be productive . . . or, in the case of the first example, did you want to throw up your hands and say, “If my boss is not willing to work hard, then neither am I”?

Leaders lead by following up their words with action, by walking the talk. Wannabes lead by talking a good talk, but fall down when it comes to following through.

Consider a Mom or Dad who tells Junior, “Sure we’ll play catch, I just have to finish this one thing up,” time and time again, only to fail to deliver every time. What kind of tone does that set for the child? What kind of role model will Junior likely become for his children?

Whether you are a parent, teacher, coach, small business owner, entrepreneur, CEO, politician, or manager, you are a leader . . . to someone. And in the role of leader, like it or not, you are a role model for your company, your team, your family, your classroom, your constituency, etc. When you lead, you need to be on 24×7, conducting yourself the way you want those you lead to conduct themselves.

I think that’s why in last week’s Presidential debate supporters and detractors alike were so shocked that President Obama seemed so disinterested, defensive, and out-of-touch. On a national stage, poised to create distance between himself and his challenger, his actions were by no means consistent with his words from the past 4+ years. And whether you consider yourself pro-Obama or not, his behavior at the debate set a tone, planting seeds of doubt about what he really stands for, his leadership qualities, and what this country might expect under four more years of his Presidency.

It’s a lesson learned we can all take to heart as we “lead” in different ways in our own lives. Whether we’re a CEO in the boardroom, a manager walking the halls of his or her department, or a Mom or Dad trying to instill good study habits in a child, how we behave DOES matter. Through our behavior, we set examples, inspiring others either onto greatness or into apathy.

How do you choose to behave? Set the bar high for yourself and for those around you, so one day those you’ve led in your lifetime, personally and professionally, can take up the mantle and set the tone for others through their actions and not just words.

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