Tag Archive for Kotter

Be Consistent

“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 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 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.


Leadership That Makes Sense

The study of leadership can be quite complex, immense, and intimidating.  Many experts, authors, and teachers research and study leadership in an effort to describe or prescribe an effective model; but a “review of the scholarly studies on leadership shows that there is a wide variety of different theoretical approaches to explain the complexities of the leadership process.” (Northouse, 2013, p. 1)  Even more challenging, at times these various leadership theories seem to be in conflict with one another, and so, as Thomas Cronin says in Wren’s The Leader’s Companion, “virtually anything that can be said about leadership can be denied or disproven.” (1995, p. 30)  People then will often believe that leadership is relegated only to those who know everything about the subject or to those few people whom they feel have inherent “greatness.”

However, while good leadership does have good leadership theory as its basis, much of what makes a leader effective is in the practice of leadership, and much of what is effective in practice can be seen by doing things that make sense.  In fact, studies validate that leaders, organizations, and followers are more effective when they identify practical actions that make sense, and implement those actions.  That is why Jim Collins says, in Great by Choice, “Social psychology research indicates that . . .10Xers [leaders who built enterprises that beat industry averages by at least 10 times] do not look to conventional wisdom to set their course during times of uncertainty, nor do they primarily look to what other people do, or to what pundits and experts say they should do.  They look primarily to empirical evidence.” (Collins & Hansen, p. 25).  Edgar Schein adds, in Organizational Culture and Leadership, that this “is the basic reason why sociologists who study how work is actually done in organizations always find sufficient variations from the formally designated procedures to talk of the ‘informal organization’ and to point out that without such innovative behavior on the part of the employees, the organization might not be as effective.” (2010, p. 60)  In other words, people look around to see what makes sense and what actually works, and that is what they do.

When John Kotter, in Leading Change, talks about determining vision, he says that “all effective visions seem to be grounded in sensible values as well as analytically sound thinking, and the values have to be ones that resonate.” (2012, p. 84)  A good leader knows the culture in his organization and environment, and can identify the things that make sense, and that make sense in his specific culture.  Those things are the principles and practices that have reason behind them (leadership theory), but that resonate within the context of that culture and make practical sense (leadership practice).

So what does this mean for leaders?  It means that there is a good deal of common sense involved in effective leadership.  Don’t let the myriad of authors, experts, and theories confuse or discourage you.  Instead, remember that most often, decisions based upon empirical validation are the ones that work.  Look for what you can see works – what makes sense – and look for why it specifically works in your organizational culture, and you will be much closer to effective leadership than you realize.


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.

Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational Culture and Leadership (4th Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wren, J. T. (1995). The leader’s companion: insights on leadership through the ages. New York: Free Press.