You’ve probably heard the phrase that leaders have to talk the talk, and then walk the walk.
I know I have at it has been mentioned in practically every leadership training course I have been done.
Some of the reasons stated as to why this is important are that it helps show authenticity and it helps build trust in the leader.
Now whilst I agree with those reasons I also think there is an even more important reason, one which has a much bigger impact on actions, performance and outcomes.
That is that when a leaders actions are out of step with what they are saying or demanding it opens opportunities for those below, in the chain of command, to ignore the direction, guidance, or instruction too. Which can result in people either working on different strategies or working against the strategies.
A great example of this is mask-wearing as a preventative measure in the fight against coronavirus.
Now to be clear, this article is not about the rights and wrongs of mask-wearing as I am sure there are many more qualified people to talk about that.
No, I just want to use this as an example of what can happen when a leader talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk as I think it’s insightful.
The Center for Disease Control recommends the wearing of masks, and Donald Trump shares that message. Here the leader is talking the talk, he is setting the direction and giving the guidance.
But when he says ‘but I won’t be doing that’, i.e. I won’t be walking the talk, then he has completely undercut the guidance and direction.
When that happens, the chances of 100 percent of your people following that guidance are nil. Not only that but you have also given people in the chain of command the option to not share that guidance, or to police it.
Now in companies most leaders don’t undercut the direction so bluntly.
But the next step of not wearing a mask demonstrates that you are not going to walk the talk, and the undermines the message even more.
People follow actions more than they do words, and if you don’t do what you say should be done, then even more people in the chain of command can undermine the direction, and people see that the directive is optional.
When you don’t walk your own talk, then even having 50 percent of the people following that direction would be a great result.
I have experienced this and seen this myself in many companies, where leaders say one thing and do another, and are then surprised that people don’t follow their spoken direction.
People follow actions much more than they do words.
Leaders are role models, and people model the behaviors of leaders, this means that if you want your teams, your employees to do something, then you need to be doing it too.
If you want people to wear masks, then you need to wear a mask.
If you want people to be customer-focused then you need to be customer-focused.
If you want your organization to be inclusive then you need to be inclusive.
If you leave any wiggle room between what you say and what you do, you make what you. say optional.
At one company where I worked our boss was huge on inclusion and diversity, and talked about it all the time, and how this was a priority for him.
Yet he coupled that with sexist comments and behavior which undermined women and gave those who didn’t want to implement this strategy the opportunity to dodge it.
I literally sat in meetings where other manages went against the directive and when I mentioned diversity was a priority, people said no it isn’t he’s just saying that because he thinks he has to.
This is why you have to walk the talk, not just to show your authenticity, or to build trust in you as a leader. But because if you don’t then people won’t follow your words, they will follow your action, which might not be what you want.
I will never forget my mother telling my sisters not to smoke because it was bad for your health, as she smoked one of her 20 a day habit.
Guess what, both my sisters went on to smoke.
As I say this is article is not about the rights and wrongs of mask-wearing it’s about showing the power of walking the talk and the impact of what can happen when you don’t.
You need to have the consistency of direction, messages, and action if you want to drive 100% compliance and adherence to your strategy.
And the more variation there are between these, the lower the percentage of people there will be who follow that verbal direction.
If you want support or assistance in improving your leadership or the performance of your teams email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk about how I can help.