Tag Archive for example

Your Walk Talks, and Your Talk Talks

Recently, my family came together during a difficult time, when my father had a stroke.  As we gathered together in the hospital, with much uncertainty over the eventual outcome*, often our conversations would turn to our memories of the words of wisdom he had shared over the years.  Some of it was quite funny, but all of it was wise, so I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the wisdom I have learned from him through the years.  Some are a repeat of previous posts (because I had already been sharing his wisdom), and some are topics I haven’t shared before.  This week, I am sharing a post that I shared some time ago, and it centers around something he often said when he talked about the importance of your example to others.

*My father went home to be with His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on Sunday, May 8, 2016.  I grieve at the loss of my hero, mentor, and friend, but I rejoice at the celebration of his arrival in heaven.

“Your walk talks and your talk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” I heard my father say this many times when I was growing up, in his effort to teach the importance of being genuine. The lesson, which was reinforced to me on numerous occasions, was that my words (what I say) and my actions (what I do) need to match. In fact, the reality is that people will judge me more by my actions than by my words.

As I grew into an adult, I eventually realized that I had unconsciously taken on many of my father’s characteristics that I had learned by watching his “walk.” Interestingly, I think the same thing is true in organizations: people within the organization, over time, take on many of the characteristics of the leader. I’m reminded of the classic parenting line, “Do as I say and not as I do,” which we all know is not what really happens; we tend to do what we see. That same conclusion was reached by Albert Bandura in his studies on behavior modification and observational learning, most notably in his classic “Bobo doll” study (1969, 1986, 2003).

One of the primary applications of this truth is the importance of consistency in leadership. In essence, do what you say you will do. I found strong affirmation of this in a recent study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, which was undertaken to identify “what separates the competent from the exceptional individual performers” using over 50,000 360-degree evaluations on 4150+ individual contributors over a five-year time period. Stated in an article in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, they said, “Walk the Talk. It’s easy for some people to casually agree to do something and then let it slip their minds. Most people would say that this is mere forgetfulness. We disagree. We believe it is dishonest behavior. If you commit to doing something, barring some event truly beyond your control, you should follow through. The best individual contributors are careful not to say one thing and do another. They are excellent role models for others. This is the competency for which the collective group of 4,158 individuals we studied received the highest scores. That means, essentially, that following through on commitments is table stakes. But exceptional individual contributors go far beyond the others in their scrupulous practice of always doing what they say they will do.” (Zenger & Folkman, 2014)

Consistency in what you do is one of the most important factors in your credibility as a leader. It gives you trust, makes you believable. John Kotter made the same connection between consistency and credibility when he said, “Another big challenge in leadership efforts is credibility – getting people to believe the message. Many things contribute to credibility: the track record of the person delivering the message, the content of the message itself, the communicator’s reputation for integrity and trustworthiness, and the consistency between words and deeds.” (HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, 2011, p. 48) I had the opportunity to live this out in one organization that had an absence of trust between leadership and employees when I arrived. In my first year, I became very intentional about communicating publicly what I would be doing (both minor and major things), and then making sure that people saw that I did those things. I wanted them to know that I would do what I said I would do, so that they could trust me. My efforts were affirmed when, during an evaluation process at the end of the first year, the consensus of the employees indicated that “trust of leadership” was one of the most positive aspects of the year.

I also want to go one layer deeper in this principle. The consistency of doing what you say you will do is critical to effective leadership, but it will really only work well if it is genuine, and it is only genuine if it is who you are. In other words, it’s not simply about your actions matching your words, but your life matching your values. Jim Collins calls this “consistency of action – consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time.” (Collins & Hansen, 2011, p. 21) Consistency begins with what you say, is demonstrated by what you do, but is validated in who you are. It is actually at this deeper level that you will find the strength and courage to resist the pressure to compromise in ways that make you inconsistent, especially when circumstances are difficult.

Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of Behavior Modification. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (2003). On the Psychosocial Impact and Mechanisms of Spiritual Modeling. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 13(3), 167.

Collins, J., & Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. (2011). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2014, April 11, 2014). The Behaviors that Define A-Players.


Be an Example to the Flock

Early in my marriage, my wife and my mother were having a conversation about me (always a scary thought), when my wife commented about how annoying it was that I would wiggle my feet while I went to sleep, which of course made it difficult for her to fall asleep. My mother replied, “His dad does the same thing!” What was most interesting to me about this was that I was not even aware (consciously, at least) that this was one of my dad’s habits.

Years later, when we lived in another state, my parents came to visit, and while there, my dad came to see me at work. It didn’t take long for my extraverted father to disappear in search of other conversations, and after a while, one of my coworkers stepped into my office and asked if my father happened to be visiting. When I asked what made him say that – knowing that he had not met my father – he said, “Because I just saw someone who walks exactly like you . . . and like your son.” These two events illustrated for me the realization of how much I had followed my father’s example (whether I was aware of it or not), and how much my son, in turn, was following mine.

This is true for all of us – we are examples, whether we consciously realize it or not. People watch us, especially people that are close to us or are following us. And when they watch us, they learn from our example, and emulate what we do, in some form or another. That’s why it doesn’t actually work for us to tell our children to “do as I say and not as I do,” because the truth is, they are going to do what we do regardless of what we say.

Knowing the power of our example, the Apostle Peter gives it some attention in the book of I Peter. In fact, he specifically talks about our example in the context of leadership, but before we get there, lets get a broader view of the whole book. In the first four chapters, Peter seems to spend a lot of time talking about the importance of serving others in humility. Most of this instruction is applied to specific relationships and circumstances (such as the relationship between citizen and government, husband and wife, employer and employee, Christian brothers and sisters, and so on), but is also connected back in some way to our call to glorify God and reflect Christ in everything we do. He also clearly says that having this kind of conduct and character will not always be received well, and in fact may bring persecution and suffering, but to do it anyway . . . because our motive is always outside of ourselves: again, so that God can be glorified and Christ can be modeled

In this context of serving, humility, and representing Jesus, Peter says in chapter 5, verses 1-3:

1To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

Peter says that those who are leaders have a responsibility to watch over and care for the people they lead. When I read how he describes that, it sounds to me like it is an obligation that should not be done out of obligation! He says we are to do this not because we have to, but because we want to; not for what we can get out of it, but for what we can give; and not to climb the ladder or exert power, but to serve as an example of what we are trying to grow. He says that we need to lead with a positive, selfless, and giving attitude, while living an authentic example in front of them.

You see, as a leader you ought to be caring for the people you lead, but you shouldn’t do it for what you can get out of it, rather, you should do it because it is the right thing to do. In doing so, you provide an example that will shape and influence them far more than you realize, because they are watching you and they will imitate you. In the end, your recognition and reward is beyond the material and temporal gains, but will instead be the lifetime reward of developing people, and the eternal reward of glorifying God. Therefore, as a leader: be an example to the flock.