Do you walk the talk?

I was attending an event in downtown Memphis not long ago and I observed a gentleman, perhaps in his early 30s, standing among three or four other people. On one wrist he wore a copper bracelet, the type often promoted to ease arthritis pain, and on the other wrist he wore a steel cable bracelet, a wellness bracelet that presumably promotes wellness and positive energy. The gentleman was wearing a shirt that promoted running, perhaps a marathon or something similar. Oh, and he was smoking a cigarette.

How often do we give the image of being a good, positive leader – we say all the right things and we quote from all the right books and we even display them on our bookshelves – but our actions don’t support any of that? Over the years, this is one of the most repeated complaints I have heard employees make of their leaders. They would often say, “Why doesn’t ______ walk their talk?”

It is such a powerful thing when leaders “walk the talk”. It can have a tremendous impact on the organization’s culture, values and environment. Here are a few practical ways to silence the critics when they complain about the leaders not walking the talk:

  • Model it! Do what you want to see from others. Ralph Waldo Emerson flatly states it, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” When people see their leaders doing the very thing they are asking of others to do, it is forceful.
  • Understand that rules are NOT just for everybody else. I have been in organizations where I was expected, and actually encouraged, to bypass some rule or process because of my position. The interesting, albeit not surprising, thing was that very few people adhered to the process – simply because the leaders didn’t. 
  • Be a person of your word.  No matter how insignificant you think it might be, no matter how small the issue may seem, ALWAYS do what you say you will do. But a part of this is to make sure that you do not make promises lightly. Too many leaders will quickly respond with a “Yes” or “Okay” when someone brings an idea to them. Part of the problem is that the person with the idea hears a promise to do something when they get that kind of response. Leaders need to be careful not to say “Yes” unless: 1) it is something that CAN be done, 2) it is something that SHOULD be done, and 3) it is something the leader has the AUTHORITY to get done. Being dependable is something that a leader must be in order to be effective. This is critical in building trust.

The quickest way for a leader to lose credibility – not walking the talk – is really very simple to remedy. It is extremely difficult to regain credibility once it is lost, so begin today to take steps so that you do not lose credibility in the first place.

John Maxwell sums it up nicely:  

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.