Is seems trite and perhaps overused to use the phrase "walking the talk," but truly, this phrase stands the test of time for an executive in terms of building trust with a team. As leaders we live in glass houses and people watch everything we do. If we are not congruent with what we say and do, our credibility is compromised. The old adage "actions speak louder than words" is true and everyone around you easily observes when words and actions aren't congruent.
Do executives succeed when their actions and words aren't congruent? Of course it depends on your definition of success, however if you desire to live with integrity, actions must match your words. When an executive does not say what s/he means and means what s/he says, it is similar to the old parental adage of "do as I say, not as I do". It doesn't work in families either. Our actions are much more powerful than our words. Getting the two to be consistent is a meaningful goal.
It starts with integrity -- if you are honest with yourself, you will likely be more honest with others and if so, you will be more inclined to do as you say. One method to identify whether or not your walk and talk match is the way in which you oversee employees. When you have someone needing coaching or counseling, do you deal with it or in a timely fashion? When you deal with it is it an honest and kind delivery or do you soften the truth?
When you ask something of a direct report is it acceptable for the employee to go about their business or do you actually expect the employee to follow what you ask? If the latter, do you follow up on it or do you let it slide. The answer to each of these questions will tell you whether or not you are consistent with walking your talk.
Whether we consciously focus on leadership behavior, at some level, we register a leader's behavior. For example when a leader outlines expectations, but allows employees to dismiss them, s/he sends a message to everyone that it doesn't matter if you follow the expectations or not; actions overrule the words.
Additionally when an executive makes a mistake, it is important to own it and be appropriately public about it. Others often will see the mistake or experience the outcome of it. Making it a habit to own up to one's mistakes is one more behavior that makes you consistent with walking the talk. The beauty of it is that it fosters trust in a team. People respect someone who is honest, admits when something has gone awry, owns their part in it and lets people know what they plan to do from there.
Having led by "walking the talk" as a transformational leader, I know it works. But it also takes work in terms of self-evaluation of your actions constantly so that you become aware of your walk and talk. Do you really know if your walk and talk match?
There are a few things to increase awareness of walking the talk:
- Watch someone you respect in action and observe carefully what they do to make their actions and words match and learn from them.
- Do a serious self-evaluation observing the amount of times you do or do not follow-up with what you ask of others and your consistency in doing what you say you will do. If you find you have areas for improvement, act on them - it will only lead to success.
- Find one or two people who work closely with you who will dare to be honest with you about your consistency in doing what you say.
- Develop a plan for new habits and then follow-through and improve!
Consistency in our behavior and words spills over from our work to personal life and everyone, including you, benefits.